It is a common response to tragedy. “My thoughts and prayers are with you”. We say it to people we know and love when their loved ones die or when they are facing surgery or some other difficult situation.
It has become an all too familiar refrain from politicians after mass shootings. And since we’ve had more mass shootings (in which 4 or more people have been shot) than we have had days in 2015, we’ve heard it. A lot. (Up to date shooting statistics here. 353 as of Friday Dec 4, 2014.)
Dr. Rand Paul tweeted, “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”
Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted, “Our prayers are with the victims.”
Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted, “Please keep the victims … in your prayers.”
And that is a good first start. It would be a good thing for us to keep the victims in our thoughts, because they are in the midst of hell. I think about the families of the people who thought they were going to work, or going to the doctor, or going to a movie, only to discover they were becoming the latest news story that would gather our attention for 15 minutes until the next shooting took the spotlight.
The people whose lives are destroyed by senseless gun violence should never leave our thoughts.
And if we’re the praying types, they shouldn’t leave our prayers either. I trust that lifting the cries and desolation of the world up to God matters. God already knows their pain before we mention it, so it isn’t like we’re making sure God has checked Twitter lately to be up to date.
Prayer is one way we remind ourselves that in everything, in joy and sadness, in celebration and sorrow, we are God’s and we are held carefully in God’s embrace.
After the San Bernardino shooting, however, it seems we have reached the saturation where people are calling ‘bullshit’ on politicians who claim they are praying, but in action do nothing to enact meaningful policy that would make us safer. Next week, we’ll mark the 3rd anniversary since the Sandy Hook shooting happened. If we decided the deaths of children was an acceptable price to pay for untrammeled gun rights, are we surprised people don’t believe we are praying?
Here was the headline from the New York Daily News.
And then Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said this.
To those of us who are praying people, I hope we see this “prayer shaming” as a wake up call. The world will not sit by any longer and take platitudes instead of action. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t pray. It means we actually should pray. It means we can’t just blithely offer words, but not actually breathe them into our hearts, or let them seep deep into our souls, changing us and leading us to participate in the divine work of restoration and redemption.
One of my friends shared a quote today from John Dominic Crossan that is a good antidote to prayer shaming.