|What Can I Do? How To Pray|
essay by Michael regarding the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack
Aside from some very practical things like donating blood or money, etc., there is one more very important function that we can serve to honor those who have died and who are currently risking their lives in the rescue effort. That function, as many have realized, is to pray. But how?
Much has been said about an eye for an eye,presuming that to be a biblical sanction for revenge. I think now is a very good time to appreciate that familiar phrase in its cultural context. It was widely accepted that it was important to seek revenge for an injustice an literally generations would become involved in retribution. The highest wisdom of the time was given to temper the revenge, to not escalate it. It said you could do no more injury than was done unto you. So it was not written as carte blanche permission for all-out revenge.
Interestingly, while that scripture readily comes to many minds, some others like turn the other cheek, pray for your enemies, forgive,are ignored, as if we can pick and choose which ones we like.
Of course as long as we believe prayer to be something we do to get our own way,the idea of praying for your enemiesseems absurd! So perhaps considering another concept of prayer would be very useful at this time.
First it might be helpful to remember that Jesus taught in parables or metaphorical stories, and also appreciate the idiomatic aspects of language. We are very familiar with common phrases like cut it out, get off my back, get the picture,etc., never tempted to take them literally. Many of Jesus' instructions were the same. A phrase like turn the other cheekhas more sense to it when seen as an idiom for respond with a different 'face', 'presence', or 'quality of thought.'Our firefighters today give us the simplest example of this when they respond to a fire with water and not gasoline. It is clear that what starts the fire won't put it out. So if a situation is caused by anger, more of the same won't eliminate it. It doesn't say don't respond,but for our own good, it cautions us to not respond in kind - if we ever hope to put the fire out.And that is an important issue - for our own good - it s not for the enemiesbenefit that we pray for him, but for our own!
A big part of turning the other cheekand praying for the enemy,means that we are more likely to be part of the solution and not add to the problem. After all, is it reasonable to be angry at someone else's anger? Even when we call ours righteous indignation and theirs insanity - do you really think that they are not doing the same, that they don't have their reasons?
And here is where we see that if prayer is only the way we get God to give us what we want, then we can't help presuming that prayer for the enemy implies that they will get their way - an unthinkable proposition! But what if that very command was designed to help us appreciate a higherform of prayer? We must eventually learn to pray for more than the loaves and fishes.
This prayer is not a last resort,nor an apathetic why not, can't hurt,not is a passive do nothingattitude. After all, no one expects to say their prayers in the morning and stay home from work! What they do find is, when they pray, all the aspects of the day tend to work together for good.So it is NOT advocating no response to the terrorists. It IS advocating being honest as Christians and not pretending those verses are not in there. So with all the integrity we have, we begin to be open to understand them better, and thereby be sincere adherents to the Word.
One analogy that came to mind has been helpful: I love dogs, but if a rabid dog attacked me or a loved one, and even though I sincerely believe that anything can be healed, I would acknowledge my own limitations at the time, and would not hesitate to destroy the animal. I would not blame the animal, I would not hate it, nor would I then believe that all dogs are rabid. And I would continue to work and pray in the hopes that at another time, it may not be necessary to kill; but I would acknowledge that to be the highest available response that I had at the time.
I believe it is entirely appropriate to identify the terrorists as rabid dogs,a sickness, and aberration, not indicative of all Muslims or of life in general. We need to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves and the world from their sickness, but be very careful that we are not infected with it while we do. And I do sincerely believe it was to that end that those verse were written. And it is a comfort to consider that the instructions would not be given it if was impossible for them to be carried out. So we may begin where we are and do the best we can to fulfill all of the scripturesand be assured that that effort will be one of the very best gifts we have to offer in the times ahead.