On prayer and listening …
As Christians, there are many things we say out of habit. We say, “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, even if we do not actually mean to invoke a blessing on the person. We say, “Peace be with you,” in church without necessarily thinking about what offering the peace really means for our relationship with the other person. And we regularly say, “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” even if we do not really keep a practice of diligent prayers.
And yet, as I have thought about the chaos that has erupted in Baltimore this past week, the only thing I can say with confidence is that I am holding Baltimore in my prayers. Everything else I have tried to say has been muddled mess. If I talk too long about my sorrow around the violence, I find that I too easily slip into blaming – a slippery slope at best. If I try to talk about race, I find myself getting tangled up in the ways that race is invariably tied to socio-economic status and the inability I have as a white person to speak authority on the experience of my minority brothers and sisters. No matter what philosophical argument I try to make, I find myself entangled in a very complicated system of oppression and favor.
And so although “I am holding Baltimore in prayer,” sounds like what a person of faith says as a throw-away statement, I really mean it. I mean it because that is all I feel like I can do with authenticity and humility. I mean it because it feels like something I can actively do when I feel powerless in so many ways. And I mean it because what I know in the depths of my heart is that the situation in Baltimore is making me more upset about my own privilege and power than anything. And I can only work that out through prayer. God and I need to talk – and I need to listen.
My hope is that prayer will open up a listening heart not just for God’s word, but also a listening heart to my brothers and sisters. When prayer is at its best, it is an exercise in listening – and if anything, I am acutely aware of how much listening we need to do right now. The listening this week started for me with this article. After it brought me to my knees in prayer, I stumbled on this article about what Martin Luther King, Jr. once said about riots. These pieces and many more have reminded me once again of my obligation as a person of privilege to shut my mouth, and open my eyes and ears. Though a posture of prayer does not excuse us from action, as Desmond Tutu once said, we cannot accomplish much without it.