A few days ago, I received a private message from an old friend who’s now living and working in Taiwan. We hadn’t corresponded in years, but he had heard about the recent shootings in San Bernardino and wanted to check-in after realizing that this was second set of mass shootings that I’d experienced so close to home (i.e., I live in a city just west of San Bernardino County and was faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007 during what became known as the deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in U.S history).
As anyone keeping up with current events in the U.S. well knows, the news has been terrible of late. While liturgically speaking for me as a Christian, the season of Advent should inspire hope, it can be easy to grow despondent upon hearing about the latest act of global or domestic terrorism, the latest heartrending story of desperate refugees, the latest victim of U.S. police brutality, the latest occasion for heightened racial tensions on a college campus, or the latest sound bite of hatemongering by a politician or so-called “Christian” leader hoping to capitalize on the rising fears of an increasingly anxious American voting public.
In such times, I find that I am at a loss of words. I feel like I can offer no critique of xenophobia (be it directed at Syrian refugees or at Muslims in general), no argument for greater gun control, or no commendation of nonviolent peacemaking initiatives over the recourse to violence to resolve conflict that has not already been offered by others. Though I’m much more a woman of action than of silent contemplation, it’s strangely times like these that I find myself turning to the wise and thoughtful prayers of others for guidance on how to articulate my own thoughts.
So I’ve turned once again to one of my favorite collection of prayers, Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (2008) as edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. The book commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed by featuring prayers with social justice themes from well-known Christian leaders.
The following prayer by a fellow Presbyterian layperson and director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rick Ufford-Chase, really resonated with me and I’ve reproduced (the majority of) it below.
For Those Torn Apart by Violence
O God, we confess that we are a fearful people. Each day we grow more afraid of those who are different rather than becoming more open to embracing that difference as the mysterious and marvelous gift you intend it to be. We assume the worst intentions in those whom we meet, and all too often we act in ways that fan further the flames of mistrust, causing the culture of fear to grow greater each day.
We weep with you, O God, for countless families that have been torn apart by violence and war…. We confess our complicity in the vicious spiral of violence that grows steeper with each passing day…. We take what we want at the point of a gun or a missile. We misread the resistance to our tyranny by sisters and brothers around the world as an irrational hate that must be met by force. We turn to simple, foolish answers of violence as we feel more and more afraid. We are seduced by the ways in which we ourselves profit from our involvement in the vast military-industrial complex that drives us deeper and deeper into war.
We confess, O God, that we are numbed by our media’s unrelenting reports of irrational acts of terror. Even as we are repulsed, something inside of us continues to be drawn inexplicably toward the commodification of suffering. As a result, we fail to recognize the ways in which our own participation in the violence of war is antithetical to all that is at the heart of your liberating message of hope.
O God, we long for the day when those who make plans for war learn instead that there is great profit in peace. We dream of the day when we ourselves will learn to seek our own security in an attitude of humility rather than hostility. We commit to you, O God, that we will begin by confronting the reality of our own privilege in the world, and by confessing the ways in which we refuse to unlearn racism that has been so deeply ingrained in us. We will strive to let power fall away; to let love replace fear; to build relationships marked by trust, respect, and fairness with sisters and brothers in our own communities and around the world.
Finally, O God, we give thanks for acts of courage by your people that point the way to a new day….We are in awe of the glimpses you offer of the beloved community that is within our grasp: Christian peacemakers who become a nonviolent presence in communities marked by long-standing resentments, grave injustice, and the seeds of hate; moments of reconciliation between peoples long separated by fear; small expressions of community in which your people have defied boundaries, torn down borders, and ignored the barriers that divide us.
We are yours, O God….
Stand with us, we pray, O God. Give us courage. Do not allow us to fail. We are yours.
Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the co-editor, with Ilsup Ahn, of Asian American Christian Ethics (Baylor University Press, 2015) and author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011).
9 thoughts on “A Prayer for our Troubled Times By Grace Yia-Hei Kao”
I share many of your feelings, Grace. This is an especially hard time for those of us (like you and me) who oppose all wars to be heard.
Personally, I would be a little disingenuous praying this line: “O God, we confess that we are a fearful people. Each day we grow more afraid of those who are different rather than becoming more open to embracing that difference as the mysterious and marvelous gift you intend it to be. We assume the worst intentions in those whom we meet, and all too often we act in ways that fan further the flames of mistrust, causing the culture of fear to grow greater each day.” I suspect that even the author of these lines is not confessing “his own” sin but the sins of some or many of his congregants and some or many other Americans.
What do you think? Should we be confessing the sins that are not “ours” or the ones that really are “ours”?
I find the formulaic confession of sins does not work for me any more in any case. My prayers focus on seeing and opening our hearts to the beauty of the world and all of those who live in it. I find love and beauty to be better motivators of positive action than sin and guilt.
Carol – thanks for your response and it’s a great question. When folks compose formal prayers, my understanding is that they are trying to capture the thoughts and yearnings of all who might utter the same prayer, not just convey their own sentiments. But beyond that point, I can’t absolve myself of fear. I don’t believe I share the zealous xenophobia or Islamophobia or fear of black male bodies that is pervasive in the culture, but I confess to sometimes being more afraid of homeless people I encounter from time to time who seem to be either mentally unstable or intoxicated (or both) than compassionate. So I can in good conscience pray this prayer.
You also raise a great point about what actually serves as the best ground for moral motivation. I can totally appreciate different perspectives o this question. For me, confession of sins is not first and foremost tied to spurring people (or myself) to social change; it’s an act of honesty — of realizing that one has fallen short…
We need more of a sense of inner light, rather than judgements. On all fronts we need good leadership and wisdom to help heal the world.
Thanks Meg for reading and writing. More light (pun intended) indeed!
Thank you Grace. I think we are all complicit in some way and your reproduced prayer by Rick Ufford-Chase goes many miles in opening up the space required for hope.
Thanks, Susan – glad this prayer by Rick Afford-Chase was helpful for you, too.
Thanks NMR for reading and writing (and your own word response captures it all)!