My main vocation is to pray. So is yours, as a follower of Christ.
And I admit, as some of you would, that praying is hard. List for me all the ways prayer has been difficult for you, and I’ll list you mine: no time, don’t know how, guilt, Is he even listening?, laziness, more guilt, plain unbelief. Guilt.
But I’m not going to let up or give up. The Spirit repeats to me more than once, with grace, that prayer is the only way. The only way to know God, to know myself, to live alive-full in him. Praying opens up the glory of God, the beauty of God, the wonder of God to my weary, wayward, temperamental heart.
But the field of prayer is much wider than my own heart. Yes, in prayer the depth of my soul communes with the awesome depth of God’s love and mercy. But prayer is also expansive and all-encompassing. Praying like Jesus crosses borders, reaches through dividing walls, embraces history. Praying as Jesus did willfully receives the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. And this is perhaps the most challenging thing about prayer. To pray not just for my own sake, but for the sake of others.
This is the temptation I’m led to every day - that life and work, play and prayer is all for me. It is natural for me to make my needs and desires central; this is not solely caused by the culture I live in, but by the outright selfishness of my heart. But I belong to Christ now - such is a grace too wonderful!--and so my life is no longer about me, but about Jesus. My life is no longer for me but for Jesus and his kingdom way.
I’ve been praying through the terrible news out of Kamloops, BC and the discovery of a grave site of 215 children at a residential school. The horror of this! I was appalled, terrified, and so very sad. There is word from Indigenous leaders to not be surprised if more graves are discovered. I can’t even imagine. But, the existence of these graves at residential schools, as I’ve learned, is no secret. It is widely known, documented even, that these graves exist. Some are marked, but many are not. So, my shock is twofold: that these graves exist and that I didn’t care to even know they existed.
I have since learned more about residential schools in Canada. About the mistreatment of children, of whole Indigenous communities and of the generational trauma that has been leveled upon these people. My heart aches. There is much to learn still, and much to be done to reconcile and move toward healing.
But there’s also this important question: How now, shall I pray?
Here is what I have been reflecting. Extracting focus off myself, the Spirit continues to chisel my stony heart. Compassion, he is teaching me. I must pray with compassion. Not a compassion that flexes my superiority: “I have lived better than you, I am in a better position than you, let me carry you up, offer you a piece of my life so you might have comfort.” This is not compassion at all. Compassion, the Spirit shows me, is what Jesus displays. He knows the pain of those in pain, he hears the cries of those crying, and without yet offering what he alone can give (comfort, healing, and whole and holy peace)...he gives his attention fully to the person. He weeps with them. (See John 11:28-37, and all his healing moments in the Gospels.)
I don’t believe tears are necessary for prayer to be true. But the Spirit moving our inner being to care more, understand more, and so see the plight of our neighbour - this is praying compassionately. The reality of their pain must be known on their terms. No rushing. But also no hiding, or covering, but seeing, hearing and naming the truth - this also is compassionate prayer. This is Jesus’ compassion on us. So, as we receive this from him, may we pour our our prayers compassionately for others.
As new graves emerge at residential schools across Canada, let us pray for greater compassion.
A call to action is always appropriate. Some may be ready to do something immediately. Some, not yet. Regardless, movement to greater compassion, like that of Jesus, has no terminus. So let us learn more, the Spirit leading, of the pain of our neighbours, and specifically, our Indigenous neighbours whose voices need to be heard. Let us cry with those crying. Let us feel the pain of those pained.
Let us lament.
Graciousness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Psalm 85:10 NASB