Yesterday afternoon I found out that ABC news plans to dedicate it programming today to "Hunger at Home: Crisis in America." It precipitated my writing of this post which I had planned to add as a later addition to a series on tools for prayer.
One important item in our prayer toolkit is knowledge of our hurting world. Not knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but knowledge that equips us to respond. Becoming aware of the needs in our world can lead us into a deeper understanding of the ache in God's heart for our hurting friends and neighbors. It can also connect us to our own self-centered indifference that often makes us complacent when God wants us to be involved. And it can stimulate us to respond to situations that we once felt indifferent to.
It is easy to feel complacent and ignore the brokenness of our world when we don't know what is happening. There are of course many ways to stay informed, some of which can overwhelm us with the pain and hurt that surrounds us. I find that it is better to listen than to watch, at least in the initial stages of a disaster. The mind numbing images we see on TV and the internet of starving children, war torn countries, and flooded rivers may do more to inoculate us against pain than they do to prompt us to prayer and action.
It is also easy to let what we see and hear wash over us without really attending or planning to act. Both of these responses are passive and rarely lead to action. Our awareness of the world's pain should make us respond at many levels. And just as our prayers need to be upward, inward, and outward, so do our responses to the needs we read about.
- We need to listen with the active intention of doing something. I find it helps to keep a piece of paper or my prayer journal with me as I listen to the news. I write down the one or two items that most disturb my equilibrium and make them the focus for my prayer.
- We need to listen with the intent to find out where God is already at work. Sometimes, as with the NPR program on Tomato slavery this week, I do more research on the issue -- not specifically to learn more about the depths of the problem, but to learn about how others are already responding. Recognizing that God is already at work bringing comfort, support and provision is all the encouragement and motivation we need to get involved.
- We need to listen to the heart of God in the midst of the pain. Sometimes my response to the news is to sit quietly before God imagining how God feels about the tragedy I have become aware of. At times I feel that God allows me to glimpse the deep pain and agony that is at the very heart of the eternal One's being. It is a pain that is so deep it aches with every broken person in our world and grieves with every lost and damaged soul.
- We need to listen for places that we have contributed to the tragedy we are hearing about. Decisions about how to dress, what to eat, and where to spend our money can all have unintended consequences. Sometimes listening at this level calls us to prayers of repentance and inner changes that transform the way we view our world and the ways we interact with it.
- We need to listen together with friends. This kind of listening often provides good fuel for a group meeting which not only prays together but also holds members accountable to their intended responses. Once we have shared what we plan to do with someone else, it is harder to back down from our intentions.
And once we have listened at all these levels we need to make sure that we do not walk away from our prayers without specific responses in mind. Here are some possibilities to consider:
- Write a short prayer that you can recite throughout the day or week that addresses the issue. I have found that using the psalms is often helpful here. Rewording them to fit the situation I am reading about is often a very effective form of prayer.
- Email or phone someone you know either personally or because they are an advocate in this area who is already responding to the issue. Encourage them and make them aware of your support.
- Donate to an organization that is involved.
- Consider ways to volunteer as part of your response.
- Consider a career change. This is obviously a very radical response to news but for some of us it is God's intention -- an active outward prayer that flows from our hearts and into God's world.
Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates and author of several books including GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life. She describes herself as a contemplative activist encouraging a way of life that interweaves spiritual practices with concern for justice and environmentalism. This blog first appeared on her personal blog GodSpace.