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In Defense of Thinking and Praying

The Rev. Patrick Ward
March 21, 2019

By now, there is a certain routine progression to events such as those that began last Friday in Christchurch:  the shockingly scaled violence of automatic weapons; global horror and sorrow beyond words; pious statements from public officials assuring solidarity via private “thoughts and prayers” for the dead and the grieving; and outraged backlash against “thoughts and prayers” from those who long for definitive action such as the automatic weapons bans and buy-backs put in place by New Zealand’s prime minister within days of the fifty murders at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center in the early afternoon of March 15.


My own support for automatic weapons bans, and our parish’s recent advocacy for rational gun legislation in the Commonwealth are not my focus today.  Rather what I am thinking about this Lenten morning is prayer. Thoughts and prayers. Prayers for the dead. Prayers for the living. Prayers for our common future. Prayers for the safety of the world. Today, March 21, the church remembers Thomas Cranmer, the architect of Anglicanism and the first author of our prayer book. “In the midst of life,” wrote Cranmer famously, “we are in death.” Where we go from that “death” is perhaps a crucial part of what prayer is all about.


How did this ever become commonplace: the notion that prayer is somehow an alternative to growth and action and change? To pray, I think, is not to flee or avoid. It is rather to open one’s self to God, and in the case of intercessory prayer, to the needs of one’s community and one’s world. Sometimes, in the moment, it is all we can do. But to pray, I think, is also to begin a new future. Prayer is action – and not action’s opposite – because it builds up the volume of love at work in the world. “I pray on the principle that wine knocks the cork out of the bottle,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher, the great 19th-century preacher, abolitionist and social reformer. “There is an inward fermentation, and there must be a vent.”


Prayer, as our prayer book teaches (p. 856) is not only defined as “asking” and “longing.” Prayer is thought and deed, with or without words. Prayer can simply be lifting up the heart and mind to God and being still. Prayer can be also involve making restitution. Prayer can be an offering our labor. And prayer can be simply allowing God to draw praise from us.


In our most commonly voiced prayer, we invite God to be with us and to change us: “thy kingdom come.” That’s a prayer that’s all about the future, as I suppose most prayers are. "To clasp the hands in prayer,” wrote Karl Barth, “is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”


Would you be willing to begin a little uprising with me now? Are you willing to use the balance of Lent in prayer and “fermentation” and to be open to what might result?


Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.


See you in church,




The Rev. Patrick C. Ward

Associate Rector


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