Pointless & Persistent Prayer

When asked what I do for a living, I no longer answer “clergy” or “Episcopal priest.” Frankly, lots of people just don’t know what to do with that. Stereotypes abound. We only work on Sundays. We are not allowed to drink nor to curse. And God forbid you should curse around us! (Truth be told, in private, most of us swear like sailors.😊)

Because of media caricatures, many assume “Christian” means fundamentalist or evangelical. When in all honesty, personally I am neither of these things. I am just a mainline, broad church, ordained Episcopalian.

I earn my daily bread here at Emmanuel with words: healing, honest, hopeful, joyful, sorrowful, humorous, stumbling, stuttering, confusing, and hopefully sometimes life-giving words. A professional wordsmith, I struggle to get this “right.”

I am blessed to be Emmanuel’s liturgist. What the heck is a liturgist?  Well, it is something I never thought I would grow up to be; I am a big picture person, you see. And meaningful liturgy is found in the details and details have never been my best thing.  But now sweating the details of liturgy is a labor of love.

It is a labor of love I share with creative partners: Ryan and Chuck, wonderfully supported by Karen and Janie. Sundays are not possible without the teamwork of all of us.

In an Excel spreadsheet, I map out Sunday services across the seasons, six months at a time. At Emmanuel, we cycle though the depth and breadth of every option the Book of Common Prayer has to offer.

Each week, I weave through our prayers notes of both celebration and sadness; comfort and loss. New babies and new beginnings. Lost loved ones and lost jobs. Grateful for life’s blessings while mourning its pain. I am a translator of sorts, translating both hope and tragedy into prayer.

And, of course, there is no shortage of tragedy, right? Each week I furiously bang out on my MAC the Prayers of the People — attempting to keep our intercessions in sync with world events, as best I can.

Prayers after natural disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.

Prayers responding to crises: here and there, near and far, and in our own backyards.

Prayers for mending and tending the brokenhearted and brokenness of this world.

It is my job to write such prayers. But I confess to you that it is also frustrating to the point of feeling absolutely pointless.

Case in point. Here is James Martin, S.J.’s prayer, that I have rewritten umpteen times and added to our liturgy. So many times over the last eight years I can barely keep count. And today, we tragically pray it yet again:

Loving God, we come before you, once again, after shootings fueled by racism and hatred at Top’s Grocery Story in Buffalo, New York; at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Orange County, California; and at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. We grieve, God. We ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded; to console shattered families, devestated communities, and grieving friends. We weep, as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are weary; weary of the blindness to this important issue. Weary, as when an exhausted Jesus fell asleep in the boat after wrestling with demons. Lord God, turn our sadness into compassion; our weariness into advocacy; our paralysis into acts of love.

How many times, how many injured, how many dead, how many communities torn to shreds?

Pointless to pray, right? Like spitting into the wind. But pray, we must. Do you recall the Parable of the Persistent Widow?

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Yes, pray we must, persistently, doggedly, annoyingly, frustratingly, and seemingly meaninglessly, storm the gates of heaven for the sake of this god-forsaken earth.

Prayer is not so much about God doing our will, but allowing God into our heads that we might do his. We pray that somewhere along the way, our hardened hearts be converted to get us up off of our knees, inspired to do God’s justice. To do something concrete that will make a difference, something to save actual lives.

Let us ponder prayerfully the ways we might advocate for racial justice, mental health resources, responsible gun legislation, and support for law enforcement and first responders.

What else can we add to this list? What else can be done?

Continue to pray, my friends, like the Persistent Widow, no matter how pointless it may seem.

Pax vobisum, Joani

Mental Health Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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