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by Rev. Kim Wood, Conference Minister
A colleague and I were recently discussing the power of prayer. It was a particularly poignant conversation in light of the way prayer seems to be used so flippantly these days, particularly in the wake of community tragedies. A mass shooting happens – someone is at a press conference giving an update and stating that “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” A person driving an SUV mows down 18 victims, 8 of whom died – and a community figure speaking about it says, “We pray for the families whose loved ones have lost their lives.” Another piece of legislation to harm people comes one step closer to being passed or signed into law, such as a bill to keep people who identify as transgender from competing in college or high school sports, or one that tightens bans on abortions, or one that reduces hospitals and treatment programs for mental health and drug treatment primarily in poverty-stricken areas, leaving residents without the means for care. “Our prayers are with the people whose lives are impacted by these injustices.
There is no denying that the power of prayer is strong, even palpable. But once it becomes rote words that are so adeptly thrown around as a pat response or a way to get off the hook for taking responsibility to affect change, it is just that … empty words. Like anything else that truly matters, prayer requires attention and commitment. I’m not talking about a required daily time block or ritual devoted solely to prayer, although that is certainly one way of doing it. I’m talking about actually taking the next step from uttering words of promise to seeking connection with God. That will look different for each of us and may be an intentional moment when something happens to lift a prayer to God, or it may be a part of your morning routine, taking time with a prayer circle or in worship to turn to God with a concern, or having a conversation with God as you drive in to work or take your daily walk. Prayer requires engaging with God.
Did I say “engaging?” Yes, that’s right. Prayer requires engaging with God, which means not just tossing the concern or incident God’s way and moving on with life, but also keeping space for God to be in the conversation, too. When we pray, we make a conscious decision to engage with the Holy and accept that the Holy will also engage with us. We make a commitment to be present in and for the prayer that we are bringing to God.
Prayer has been on my mind a lot lately. It is too easy to tell someone they’re in our prayers and then move on with our day. But the power of prayer comes not in the statement, “I will pray for you,” but in the commitment to be present. What that looks like is between each of us and the One who has created us in the holiest of images. It may be a moment of comprehension that God has got this or a clear understanding that you are called to be present in other ways, such as activism or outreach. It may mean being physically present with a person or people, comforting them, holding them, praying with them. Whatever it is, it is not a lonely encounter of self but a collaborative encounter with God and humanity.
I hope you are taking time these days to pray. There are a lot of life-breaking and harm-doing things for us to be praying about: there are many who need our prayers and with whom we might be praying. It is my prayer that, together as the Southeast Conference and individually, we will not only provide the words of prayerfulness but that we will accept the commitment to engage in prayer with God; that we find the pathways of presence, whatever they look like from God’s wisdom and mercy to our ears and hearts, to not just acknowledge the tragedy, destructiveness, pain, and suffering of others, but to bring about real and just change. I hope you’ll join me as we near the end of this Easter Season and prepare for Pentecost and the acknowledgment that, as Jesus promised, God has provided the Holy Spirit as our guide and strength. There is power in prayer … and in presence.