After Wednesday’s shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., many posted messages of prayer to social media. In response, some have responded to say prayer isn’t enough in the face of gun violence. The front page of the New York Daily News didn’t mince words: “God Isn’t Fixing This.” Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.”
This “prayer shaming” misses the point. Prayer isn’t the problem; inaction is. There’s a popular phrase attributed to Pope Francis: “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That is how prayer works.” Authentic prayer always includes action.
Prayer is a form of protest as old as Scripture itself. In the first pages of the Bible, God tells Moses to lift up his hands when he petitions the Lord on behalf of the people of Israel. Jesus lifted his hands high upon the cross as he offered his life for the salvation of God’s people. About 50 years ago, Reverend Martin Luther King raised his hands up in prayer and in protest to bloodshed and injustice.
Today in San Bernardino and all throughout the country, people of faith are lifting up their hands in protest of gun violence, racism, religious bigotry and the individual and structural injustices that hurt our nation and divide our communities.
Prayer can have a great power in promoting peace. “God isn’t fixing this? No, we’re not listening,” writes Jesuit priest James Martin. “The disgust and anger and sadness that we feel over these kinds of violent acts are God’s disgust and anger and sadness. This is God inspiring us, urging us, begging us to act.”
Prayer inspires people across the nation to work to make the Advent dream of the prophet Isaiah our lived reality in the U.S.: Spears and swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and pruning hooks and communities will seek the way of peace.
Fixing our nation’s gun problem must be done by us. After all, that’s what prayer calls us to do.
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