A Prayer From the Privileged by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

“As we approach Memorial Day Weekend (and the militaristic patriotism it promotes), as the 2012 election cycle heats up, and as I meditate more deeply upon my and my country’s many riches, one of [Walter] Brueggemann’s prayers in particular spoke to me.”

One of the three books I took with me on vacation is by the world’s leading interpreter of the Old Testament, Walter Brueggemann. It’s not actually on the Bible, but something he published in 2008 called Prayers for a Privileged People.

A book like this is well-suited to me for two major reasons. First, I live among what Brueggemann identifies as the “haves” because of my “education, connection, power, and wealth.” Unlike far too many children in the world, I received (free) public education from K-12; unlike far too many families in the United States, mine never struggled financially to send my brother and me to the colleges (and then to the medical/graduate schools) of our dreams. Today, I may not rank among the 1%, but I live a very comfortable middle class life and thus must be counted among the privileged.

The second reason I originally bought this book (and am reading it now) is because I would like to develop my spiritual life. While so much today is made of the growing numbers of the “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR), I have always thought of myself as inclining towards the opposite, of being “religious, but not spiritual.”

Frankly, I’m terrible at contemplative practices. Even in my (former) evangelical Christian years, I struggled to do my “quiet times.” While reading the Bible was something I could (and did) do, just “being still” in silence in an attempt to “listen to God” (or even taking a “nature walk” to bring about the same result) has always been very difficult for me.

As we approach Memorial Day Weekend (and the militaristic patriotism it promotes), as the 2012 election cycle heats up, and as I meditate more deeply upon my and my country’s many riches, one of Brueggemann’s prayers in particular spoke to me.  I’ll reproduce it below in full.

The Noise of Politics

We watch as the jets fly in

with the power people and

the money people,

the suits, the budgets, the billions.


We wonder about monetary policy

Because we are among the haves,

and about generosity

because we care about the have-nots.


But slower modes we notice

Lazarus and the poor arriving from Africa,

and the beggars from Central Europe, and

the throng of environmentalists

with their vision of butterflies and oil

of flowers and tanks

of growing things and killing fields.


We wonder about peace and war,

about ecology and development,

about hope and entitlement.


We listen beyond jeering protesters and

soaring jets and

faintly we hear the mumbling of the crucified one,

something about

feeding the hungry

and giving drink to the thirsty,

about clothing the naked,

and noticing the prisoners,

more about the least and about holiness among them.


We are moved by the mumbles of the gospel,

even while we are tenured in our privilege.


We are half ready to join the choir of hope,

half afraid things might change,

and in a third half of our faith

turning to you,

and your outpouring love

that works justice and

that binds us each and all to one another.


So we pray amid jeering protesters

and soaring jets.

Come by here and make new,

Even at some risk to our entitlements.

I am at a stage in my life where I would like to (re)learn how to pray. I would also like to be in fellowship with others who know how to pray, too. I am ashamed at the types of petitionary prayer I used to offer in my younger years. May I be guided more by prayers like this one for the privileged.

Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is currently working on a second book project on Asian American Christian Ethics. She is also co-editing a volume with Rebecca Todd Peters that is tentatively entitled “Encountering the Sacred: A Theological Exploration of Women’s Lives.” Read more about her work on her website.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Christianity, Evangelicalism, General, Military, Power relations, Prayer, Social Justice

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3 replies

  1. As a Muslim, I am mandated to pray a ritualistic prayer 5 times per day. There have been many times where I felt I was doing it as part of my duty but that “talking with God” aspect was difficult to focus on. How I have helped myself tune in and ‘relearn’ how to pray essentially is by focusing on one central feeling: being grateful. Everyday I pray I think about all my ‘privileges’ and I know I can’t tale them for granted IE: my health, my husband’s health, opportunities etc. So now I keep that feeling as the purpose of my prayer and it helps take the routine and ritualism out of it, and rather gives me a chance to say thank you!

    Great post Dr. Kao! I miss hearing your insights, so reading them is a treat!


  2. Hi Dr. Kao.
    Great post. Thank you so much for sharing the poem by Walter Brueggermann. I too, struggle with quiet time, sitting, breathing and being, and that’s after a lot of practice taking three classes with Andy Dreitcer! But I continue to put in the effort, when the house is quiet, between loads of laundry and writing papers for graduate school. What struck me particularly about this poem were the last 4 lines and the courage it takes to ask God to intervene in our daily lives, make known to us the reality of our lives, politically, culturally, and spiritually, and to do so at the risk of losing my privilege, my status, my entitlements. Peace, Holly!


  3. Grace, thank you for this powerful post! I can relate so much to what you are saying here and I am definitely going to add this book to my must read list.


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