OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN
BY ERIC MECKLEY
In the days following the horrific attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I’ve struggled to know how to respond: shock, anger, solidarity, support, sadness, despair… I have moved through all these responses and many more in the days since. Ultimately, I’ve found myself echoing Luke’s gospel, “Lord, teach me to pray.”
Jesus’ response, of course, is what we call the Lord’s Prayer and the cornerstone of our prayer lives. If “Our Father…” is the refrain we are called to echo each day, it should also be accompanied by prayer in ever-modulating verses responding to the specific joys and sorrows we face throughout our lives. So, how do we pray particularly for a world beset by conflict and violence, especially when we find ourselves at a loss for words and deeds?
First, our prayers must acknowledge the brokenness of our world. This is lament: a questioning, pleading, angry outcry against the destruction of sin and death. When we pray for the kingdom come, it always implies the question, “How long, my Lord?”
Second, our prayers for a violent world must lead us to reflection and repentance. When we respond to conflict and violence in prayer we have an opportunity to acknowledge our own complicity in the world’s brokenness. Are we willing to consider how we perpetrate violence through our own attitudes, actions, and inaction, in our attempts to be righteous and because of our own sinfulness? We must have the courage in our prayer to ask God to show us how we have failed to love our neighbor and seek forgiveness from God and those we have wronged.
Third, as impossible as it may seem, our prayers should lead us to forgive. I do not know how to understand this except in relation to the words of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” and those of the father of the possessed boy in Mark 9: “I believe; help my unbelief!” We must pray for the strength and wisdom to follow the Apostle Paul’s direction and resist at all costs the twin temptations to curse those who persecute us and repay evil with evil.
Fourth, and finally, we must believe and trust that prayer is not a passive acceptance of evil; it is active resistance against the very powers of hell. For our prayers are not ultimately individual and our own, rather they remind us that we are part of the body of Jesus Christ. Our lives are not our own. We belong to the One who died and rose again and we belong to one another. Our prayers must ultimately drive us out of ourselves and into the company of others, invigorating thoughts and actions that acknowledge and mend brokenness, seek and bestow forgiveness, and pursue peace and love. This is perhaps the hardest part as we seek to be the compassionate hand of God and engage with our families, coworkers, communities, and congregations.
As Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owen, wrote in their extraordinary book Living without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence: “In the resurrection, God made clear to us in Christ that nothing – neither death nor life – can separate us from God’s love. And in the sending of the Spirit, God promised to be with us always, to the end of time, and to empower us to be Christ for others and find Christ in them, beyond our own strength and courage.
Eric Meckley is a member of All Saints Church in Durham, NC and is working towards his doctorate in English at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.