When tragedy explodes in life, sometimes naturally, sometimes organically, this time (and far too many times as of late) exploding through the works of evil men, for those of us outside of the blast range, we sit stunned wondering how we can help. There are no shortage of ways to help – donate blood, donate money, report anything suspicious to the authorities, have your children and their classmates write condolence cards to the victims….. the list of practical ways to help is long. However, for many of us it is not enough. We need to do something right here, right now and that is why we pray.
Look at the Facebook and Twitter entries, clearly this is how many people react in such moments. When in doubt – pray. For many, prayer makes sense. However, for many others prayer is meaningless, worthless, even seen as a ridiculous waste of time. The challenge is that prayer means so many different things to so many different people and traditions. Though I can’t speak for everyone, I’ll share with you what prayer does for me and why I think it is an important first response.
When Moses and the Israelites are being pursued by Pharaoh, the Israelites panic, crying out to Moses and to God:
Pharaoh drew near, and the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold! The Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord…..Moses said to the people, don’t be afraid! Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation that He will wreak for you today…. God will fight for you, but you shall remain silent. (Exodus, Chp. 14: 10-14)
Prayer isn’t merely begging God to intervene; to suspend the laws of nature; to reverse the bleeding; to stop the remaining bombs from exploding or to somehow, miraculously hand over the perpetrators to us as if God is some Detective on High. Perhaps prayer has such effects however, for me, and more importantly for Moses, it isn’t the central purpose of prayer. Rather:
Prayer is a way to stop the fleeing, the panic and the hysteria. Of course this is a natural response in the face of terror, but nothing good comes when individuals, crowds or communities lose control. Prayer helps us to stand our ground, to re-orient ourselves amidst the tumult, to triage the situation and help those in need of our help.
Prayer is a way to quiet the ringing in our ears from the blasts, from the cries, from the sheer horror of such a tragedy. Physically, emotionally and spiritually our heads and hearts begin to spin out of control and prayer is a way to center ourselves and begin to restore some quiet amidst the deafening noise.
And prayer is a reminder that each of us is a soldier in the face of terror. Maybe we aren’t in law enforcement. Maybe we won’t be enlisting in the armed forces, but each of us has an opportunity and an obligation to fight terrorists and combat terror and that fight begins where we stand, when we stand. When we stop, stand in our tracks, quiet the noise and make a choice not to flee in panic, not to hide in our homes, not to change our routine, in no small we fulfill our duty in this fight.
Terrorists want but one thing – to terrify us. Even if we are afraid (of course we are afraid), Moses exhorts us to stand our ground, to quiet the noise, to feel the fear and move forward into the unknown, because of it, not simply in spite of it.
Go about your lives. Go about your routines. Don’t give terrorists a victory. This is what each of us can do and prayer can help re-orient us to our role within the fight.
May God bless the souls of those who were killed in this atrocity; may God comfort the mourners and those fighting for their lives; may God be with each of us as we stand firm and quiet ourselves. And even if we are afraid, to feel the fear, move through the fear, live our lives – that is what it means to pray.
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