Friday, April 13, 2012

Love & Prayer

On Monday, a Dallas judge ruled imprecatory prayer - praying for destruction or harm of others - cannot be restricted, as long as no one gets hurt.

How those prayers function in real life is more complicated. When a religious leader prays publicly for the destruction or harm of others, that person is praying a license to hate.

Prayer is a place of struggle, and although there is plenty of imprecatory prayer in the Bible, that same Bible has an abiding call to love our neighbors. For who are our neighbors? Every one is our neighbor, including that person you don't know who's running for refuge and trying to make a decent life. Every one is our neighbor, including the people we do not like and the people who do not like us. Every one is our neighbor, including the family member you cannot forgive.

Prayer has to begin where we are, but it is also about changing us. Praying for deliverance from evil needs also to account for our own actions, lest we commit evil in our fear or our self-righteousness, our hatred or our apathy.

Anticipating revenge may light up our neural sensors with the same kind of yearning as when we anticipate a pleasure, but that does not mean anticipating revenge is a good thing. Yearning for vengeance is an easy thing, and a pleasurable thing, and a very human thing.  So we need prayers to help us wrestle with that yearning and transform it - to change ourselves - lest we add to iniquity.

Praying for destruction is hurtful. It hurts us by leaving us in the middle of anticipating revenge and failing to call us back to the heart of love. It can hurt others because it is a public act of speech. It can hurt others because such prayer, in leaving us in the sense that the Holy is with us and condone our hate, yearning for revenge, or loathing, takes us away from caring for our neighbor.

As long as we have hate, we will have the yearning for imprecatory prayer. But we also have a moral calling out of that narrow heart-constricted space, a calling to care for one our neighbor, every one, including that one over there we do not like very much.

We can pray for change - our own and that of others - with loving care. The apostle Paul reminds us, "if I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but have not love, then I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). The gong and cymbal may be fun to strike and carry us away in exuberance, but we must take care in whether and how they truly herald the Holy.

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