The Memorial to the Lost on our church lawn, remembering the 176 people who were killed by gun violence in greater Washington DC in 2013, is a form of public advocacy drawing people’s attention to the urgent need to address gun violence. This week our nation is again confronted with the tragedy of gun violence as a lone gunman killed seven people with a semi-automatic weapon near Santa Barbara, California. We join their family members and friends who ask us to write three words to our public officials, “Not one more!” We want common sense gun laws.
Yet the memorial to the lost is also a form of prayer that creates a sacred space of connecting with those who died, with their loved ones, with our community, and with God. Prayer is a language of love that expresses the deepest hopes and longings of our hearts. We often don’t know how to pray and feel inarticulate. But we know that we want nothing less than that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Apostle Paul talks about the whole creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth. It’s the travail of creating a new world (Romans 8: 18-26). Does that image describe what we’re doing when we pray? Does it describe what our memorial to the lost is about? I think it does.
Paul talks about participating in that travail and hope. We have tasted the new world that’s emerging. We experience it in our own fellowship as we work and pray together but we need to be wise. It’s easy to think we can bring this new world into being through fervent prayer or through our social activism. We imagine God as unattached from what happens unless reminded and think that, somehow through our intercession or activism, God will act to heal and to right that which is broken. We forget that our God is a suffering God who is already participating in all the stuff of our lives, indeed of the whole creation.
So why pray? We pray because it’s the language of love. Prayer is its own end and not a means to obtain a particular goal. The question, “What did it achieve?” must fall silent in the face of prayer. It’s a mystical act of faith that regards the ground of our world as alive and responsive rather than an ice-cold silence.
Such faith isn’t a form of wish-fulfillment. It’s very different from assigning a cause and effect calculation to our prayers. It doesn’t keep record of answered prayers. No, at the heart of such prayer is the recognition that the ground of all being is alive with the life of God. We participate in this ground of being through our activism and through our prayers.