How Shall We Pray?

For the past several weeks, I’ve offered prayers as a gift to my colleagues in ministry who are serving faithfully during this pandemic. I’ve written liturgies following the Revised Common Lectionary that I have hoped were copied and pasted into Facebook Lives and Zooms and every other platform that congregations find themselves gathered in this moment.

I opened my email on Monday to find that two of my favorite cooking blogs are not offering new content. Yes, that’s how white I am. I faithfully read cooking blogs still these two particular cooking blogs are hitting the pause button. They are intentionally stepping back to wrestle with their own racism and the various ways that they unintentionally play into white supremacy. It’s something I know many of us are doing.

Before reading their words, I already knew I wasn’t going to offer prayers this week. I wasn’t going to attempt to assert my privilege into the grief and pain after the unforgivable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed and Tony McDade because of the racism burning in our blood.

We have heard enough from white women.

White women should be asking, like all white people, how shall we pray?

We shall not pray for peace because we do not know the grief and pain of this moment. We do not wish that there was a better way because too much has been broken. We have dared to assume we could build on a broken system and only now can we see that wrong, but then, how shall we pray?

How do you pray when your country is on fire? How do you pray when there is greater concern for property than people? How do you pray when the grief and despair is too big to name?

EZYHcAoVAAA3BAKI am listening for what I do not understand. I’m opening my heart and mind to the grace of God as I wrestle again with the demon of my own racism.

I cannot pray with my own words.

I won’t. I can’t.

I want to confess the sins of my own racism starting with my White Privilege as captured in a poem by Judith Lockhart Radtke found in The Anti-Racism Prayer Book created by Trinity Church in Boston. There are several other powerful prayers collected in this digital booklet.

Those that are still feeling the winds and fire of Pentecost might opt to use this Prayer by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat written way back when in 2014 in honor of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. It might need only a slight adaptation to feel that wind that moved over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a.

As social media blacks out to focus on the wisdom of black and brown bodies, in churches in my own United Church of Christ and other white dominated congregations, this litany of confession for Lent might be adapted to evoke the power of Creator, Christ and Spirit. This prayer remembering the last words of Eric Garner from Praying with James Baldwin might also be fitting or one of these two prayers addressing white supremacy found on enfleshed. Martha Spong offered a beautiful Trinity Prayer meditating on Psalm 8:4 in her weekly email that she admits is a prayer for majority white communities of faith. 

The United Church of Canada somehow always has words for the prayers closest to my heart as they do in this prayer To Root Out Quiet Racism.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a Black Lives Matter Worship Collection which includes a reflection about singing Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Rev. Aisha Ansano that I found powerful especially because I remain unconvinced that it should be sung in white congregations.

When I can’t find the words for my own prayers, I turn to poetry. This poem by Ross Gay popped up in my timeline again this week. As the fires blaze in riots across our country, I find myself returning to Christopher Gilbert’s Fires Gotten Brighter. Donte Collins’ what the dead know by heart sends chills down my spine and leaves me staring at my own palm. I’m not sure how you’d use these in worship just as I’m not sure how a white congregation might meaningfully use Get Home Safely which the SALT Project is offering for free download.

For better or worse, I know that my prayers as a white woman aren’t the same as my black and brown sisters and brothers. I know that as much as my throat catches watching that video, it’s not the terror I feel every day for myself or my children. I can cry listening to the Rev. Otis Moss III preach powerfully but I also learned something that I’m sure black and brown folks have known for a long time. I am new to this fight no matter how many anti-racism workshops I’ve attended.

My prayers are different because I’m not in the streets right now. I’ve got time and space to contemplate how I might pray when others are struggling to stay alive or even assert that their lives have worth.

I believe we should pray just as I believe in the power of God to do things that I cannot fathom in this moment. I’m going to hold onto that hope as I confess the sins of my own racism. That’s what it feels like these prayers are.

These are prayers to confess that we bought into the idea that this system actually worked even as we balked at 45’s great campaign slogan. We thought we knew. We thought we had done the work until this moment when a pandemic should keep us inside our homes but the grief is just too damn big.

I confess that I want to hear something like Maya Angelou’s Alone on Sunday because it might not be just about some idealized kum-ba-yah moment like in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 but it could actually say something about our collaboration with the Trinity. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I might want or how big I might like God to be. It’s not a question of my comfort.

I’ve been too comfortable. That’s the problem and the challenge of the gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

Worship has already changed. It already feels so different ten or eleven weeks into this new normal so perhaps how we pray and when we pray and how long we allow God to speak needs to change too.

We shall pray that black. brown and indigenous lives matter because God already knows they do. We shall pray so that we might be changed.

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