Let the record show that while I was kneeling on the floor of Barnes and Noble, bowing my head in astonishment to find my very own book wedged between two Tim Keller tomes, wondering how on earth it came to be there, since, you know, it’s available on Amazon, I did manage to hear the voice of the woman next to me, asking me what the big deal was. I managed to scramble to my feet and explain that I had written the book that was right there, in front of us both. She congratulated me. So then I asked her what kind of book she was looking for. She waved her hand in the direction of all the books, many of which, in that section, were bibles. She explained that her life was unraveling. She had managed to get away from an abusive guy who had been bashing her around, emotionally and in other ways. She wanted something ‘uplifting,’ you know, and just ‘something’ to get over this rough patch.
I took my vanity and ambition out of my throat and crammed them back down where the sun doesn’t shine, much, casting a backward baleful glance at my own book, and directed her attention to the Bibles. Truly, I am the Hero, or rather Heroine of this story. I hope Jesus appreciates my sacrifice. I asked her various other questions and told her that she needed Jesus to save her, more than she needed to be uplifted. I told her to go to church. When she said that she ‘just feels so lost’ I said that’s marvelous because Jesus rejoices to find the lost one and that all she needs to do was cry out to him to rescue her. And also, for Pete’s sake, find a good church. I told her I would pray for her and got her name and then actually did pray. She said, rather resentfully I think, that she ‘never comes to B&N,’ to which I replied, ‘hahaha, neither do I, haven’t been here in years.’ She walked away disappointed holding a beautifully bound journaling bible.
I tell you all this, of course, so that you will know how wonderful and virtuous I am, like unto any number of Saints of the Ages. And also because, in light of the latest terrorist violence upon the west, and the immediate cries of Prayers! Praying! Thoughts and Prayers Go Out! mingled with condolences and sorrow, I want to reiterate again even to myself that it’s not enough just to Pray. It really matters Who you pray to. In tragedies and outrages great and small there is only one true source of help, and that’s the one to whom you should cry.It’s too easy to say, ‘praying for you,’ or ‘praying,’ or ‘thoughts and prayers,’ as if somehow one’s thoughts and one’s prayers were the same, and had the same impact on the cosmos. Me thinking something must be surely as important as me praying about it. If I lift up myself and my spirit, and get my act together, and send my thoughts off into some particular direction, I will have done all I can do. I confess to occasionally thinking this must be so.
But praying and thinking are not the same. They do not have equal power. And even more so, if you are praying to the wrong person, it might even make things worse.
I think Christians should adopt some other phrase to shock the spiritual consciousness into paying attention. Rather than the quick, ‘praying for you’ line it might be nice to expand on it. (I know some good Christians already do this.) On twitter, after combining my characters to say #prayingformanchester, my thumbs might go on and laboriously clatter out, ‘I’m praying to Jesus, the Son of God, for xyz about this terrible event that has come to pass.’
Because, if you are really praying to God, there’s all kinds of possibilities of what to ask for. I might pray for my enemies to be beaten down under my feet. For God to break the teeth of the wicked. For the One who Saves to have mercy on the families of the children. For the gospel to be preached to the suffering and dying. For the people who think that God wants them to blow up anyone at all, let alone girls at a pop concert, to hear the important news that they are worshiping the wrong God. I might even pray for the world’s leaders, all of them, that they would see that this ought not be a political matter, but that the safety of their people is not something to buy and sell, or politic on to the next generation.
I guess that paragraph is longer than a tweet, though, so perhaps I will just stick to the cliched sorrow that has become as much part of the landscape as the violence itself.
Thing is, it’s really bad out there, in the world, and in here, in my own self. Crying out in desperation to the one who holds the cosmos together in his own hand would be such a sensible thing to do, if only I would do it, and the grieving woman in the bookshop would do it, and everybody on the internet would do it, and the people who are picking up the rubble of such a violent wickedness would do it. Because when you call upon the name of the Lord, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve endured, he will hear you. He will come and save you, most of all from yourself. He will even save you from your own thoughts, from being his enemy.