I dread the prayer hashtags. You know the ones. Here’s some irony for you. I’d be willing to bet that before the driver of the truck barreled into the crowd in Nice last night, he prayed. It may have been a short prayer. He could have been praying the entire time he drove over the bodies and killed eighty plus innocent people. My point is this, I’m reasonably certain, at some point, he prayed for himself and the action was taking.
In the wake of the tragedy, we are inevitably reminded and asked to “Pray of Nice”. There is so much prayer and even greater religious misunderstanding. Is it any wonder people of good will, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jewish are confused about prayer? The reminder to pray for somewhere or something has become a weary burden for many in the secular world. Most people pray or reflect when confronted with the overwhelming reality of death. They ask a simple question, “What will we recall in silence next?” For Christians, we wonder if God is listening to our words. There’s something more, though often ignored, is this: prayer can be a weapon. If not approached properly, prayer isn’t just a way to respond to tragedy but also means of justifying mass murder. Some of my Christian colleagues talk about events and people being “bathed in prayer”. The irony of last night (and today) is that Nice was bathed in two traditions of prayer, Islamic and Christian.
Is prayer the problem? And by that question, I don’t mean the action, I mean the word itself. Yes, as some have argued, Christians need to talk less and do more. It’s easy to pray and never follow up on our prayers. However, as the attack in Nice reminds us, once we’re asked to “pray” for an idea or place, no matter how vivid the news is made on television or the internet, we fall into a mode of powerless reflection. What do we do then? When we pray, we should use the words of the Psalms, the Book of Lamentations, and talk about Nice, Dallas, and give voice to those who have lost their lives. Our thoughts should come out of our heads and hearts and onto our lips.
I do not believe that praying (in the wake of tragedy), they way we’ve been doing it, is getting us anywhere and doing much good. Looking at colorful memes and changing on profile pictures may make us feel better or convince us we’re praying by scrolling our feed. But that’s not prayer. Prayers need to be unlocked from our heads and shared among each other. Maybe we shouldn’t even call them prayers, perhaps they’re really conversations. Some of the conversations need to be with those of other faith communities. Our faith conversations need to be so indescribable, linguistically uncontainable; they cannot be held to 140 characters or less. I should be able to say “God is Great” and my sisters and brothers should feel no threat in saying, “the Lord is our shepherd”. Our conversation is to speak each other’s God talk in a way that leads to loving not killing. That is the Jesus way of living, loving, and praying.