“The problem I am submitting to you arises not about prayer in general but only about that kind of prayer which consists of request or petition…. I have no answer to my problem, though I have taken it to about every Christian I know.”
Prayer has taken quite a beating in the last few years. As weather catastrophes, human suffering, mass shootings, and global tragedies are in our face daily due to the recent development of the world wide web, prayer seems incredibly useless. I, too, am really tired of Christians offering prayers for the victims of gun violence, yet doing nothing and voting for the opposite of policies aimed at reducing gun violence. I, too, have wondered what the point is.
This week, another school shooting in Benton, Kentucky, has devastated another community, more families, and more children have been taken from us in yet another horrific, possibly preventable way. It was the 11th school shooting recorded since the New Year, and the 50th of the academic year. In fact, since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings, which is approximately one per week.
Our prayers aren’t working.
Is God listening?
Does God not care?
If God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then where is the evidence of that? An all-good, all-powerful God wouldn’t just stand by as his children are being murdered, when He in fact could use His power and stop it.
What is the point of continuing to pray to God to stop the gun violence, when there are children in American schools being murdered once a week and nothing is being done about it?
Questions about prayer have churned and burned in my mind for a very long time, even before I left fundamental/evangelical Christianity. These questions have never stopped me from praying, except for my six month stint as an atheist, yet, over the years the way I pray has changed. Instead of praying TO God/the spirit/the Universe, I have learned to pray WITH.
The archaic, superstitious ideas we have about prayer need a major paradigm shift.
I was asked and blessed to review Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer with the Uncontrolling Love of God, written by Mark G. Karris. For anyone interested in deconstructing prayer, I highly recommend this book. It is intelligent, well-written, transformative, and brings forth a fresh perspective on prayer that is desperately needed right now in the world.
What I love most about this book is the authenticity and courage of Mark G. Karris in asking serious questions about prayer and dissecting theological pitfalls. It is never easy to bring forth new ideas and doubts within the Christian religion. Often times, people who do so are ridiculed, deemed heretical, and face very heart-breaking judgments from close friends and family. He discusses his fear in the quote below:
“Deconstructing the sacred practice of petitionary prayer on behalf of others is no easy task. It has been performed for thousands of years across all theistic religions and is a staple in churches across the world. The last thing I desire is to be deemed a heretic and ostracized by the Christian community. Anyone who has ever questioned the status quo regarding any revered Christian doctrine or practice knows the anxiety it provokes. Still, a part of me was not able to shake a nagging fear that petitionary prayers for sick or hurting people from a distance, or for systemic injustice or world catastrophes, could very well be like rubbing a rabbit’s foot for good luck. It might help the person rubbing the rabbit’s foot feel better, but that is all that occurs. At least that was one of my fears as I began this investigative journey.”
I am thankful that he forged ahead with this book. I know first-hand how difficult it is to leave the box, and yet there is a pull we have to follow. Not only does this book dissect prayer for those of us who share the same curiosity, but it’s a fine example of breaking free from the confines of your religion to bring forth a new, useful, and needed perspective. This book will inspire readers to not only shift their beliefs regarding prayer, but also, hopefully inspire others to delve into their own investigative journeys about other doctrines and dogma that meet our needs and the needs of others in this dying, hurting world. He discusses the importance of doubt and questioning with the following quote:
“Doubting and questioning are, in part, what enables positive changes in society and across history, such as the abolishment of slavery, the empowerment of women to vote, the research undertaken to save lives with vaccines, the technology used to create computers and to take us to the moon, the raising of the minimum wage, and the crafting of new genres of music to name but a few instances. Can doubts and questions assist petitionary prayer in becoming more liberating and valuable? I hoped so.”
After reading this book, I feel that I have a better understanding of prayer; spiritually, empirically, theologically, and feel I have learned a better, more valuable way to approach it. This book will definitely live on my bookshelf as an exemplary reference.
In order not to reveal too many spoilers, I hesitate to dive in as deep as I could with the material. However, I would like to leave you with this very important summation of this shift in perspective I hope will thrive. Mark G. Karris writes about the paradigm shift regarding petitionary prayer using the heart-breaking Syrian refugee crisis in the following quote:
“I wonder what the impact would be if, instead of praying, “God, stop the violence,” “God, heal their land,” or “God, save the poor children,” our first impulse was to pray, “God, we praise you, we thank you, and we know you care more about these people than we do. Show us how we can collaborate with you to stop the violence. Show us impactful and practical ways we can partner with you and heal their land. God, we are devastated along with you; reveal to us your loving will and empower us to bring forth shalom for these hurting children.”
In conclusion, we are co-creators. It is up to us to partner with whatever higher power you believe in to bring healing to this pale blue dot we all share. We cannot continue to pray the way we have been taught. Regarding America’s school shooting epidemic, I implore us to pray with God, like this:
“Show me how I can help reduce gun violence in America. Show us solutions via legislation, that will not add more weaponry, but more peace. Reveal to us the ways we may be used as pawns for gun sales. Help me work with you to bring about gun violence reduction. Reveal to me the ways in which I have been an accomplice by inaction. Show me how I can act now, how to vote, what to say, and how to share with others my commitment to take seriously the need for gun reform. Give me courage to stand alone in my community if need be. Help me to echo your desire for healing and shalom.”
“We are the Divine Echoes!”