Prayers and an Earthquake

January 14, 2010

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time–waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God– it changes me.” – C.S. Lewis

So goes the quote from Lewis I recently heard recounted in the biopic of his life, “Shadowlands.” Everyone in the Christian world has tried to claim him as their own at different times, the right and the left, yet I think he remains where he is, wholly himself. I’m not trying to claim him for my thoughts here either; I just was sparked by the “prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes me” idea because it sits close to where I am in my thoughts. It also came to me today and yesterday in light of the earthquake that devastated Haiti and took so many lives.

I mean no offense to anyone who uttered the line “I’ll pray for Haiti” or urged their friends to follow suit and “keep Haiti in your prayers” recently, but I couldn’t help from thinking about all the times we say we’ll pray for something and we stop at that feeling as if we’ve done our part. I don’t see the value in that type of prayer. In fact, I don’t see the value in any prayer that doesn’t lead to some sort of action or change. The change may be simple– it may bring us peace, comfort or confidence–or it may be large–it may lead us to donate time, money and action to a difficult or dangerous cause. Yet that change must be something we’re trying to get at or we’re wasting our time.

I realize that by remaining Christian I interact with, work with and befriend many with strong beliefs that I might not always agree with. I remain Christian because within it’s dimensions I find the vocabulary, customs, liturgies and actions that best enable me to envision and interact with God. I find my connection to God, God is (S)He who is present and manifest in spirit that runs through all, God is Spirit which I find fully tapped into and transformed in the historical person of Jesus as I understand and as much as I can know. My faith is one that always holds a great deal of doubt, suspicion and confusion but one that also taps into hope, compassion, altruism and a thirst for justice. My faith is also one that respects and learns from the texts, traditions and customs of all enduring world religions and philosophies yet hasn’t found it’s best expression in those other ways to God, probably because my roots remain in Christianity. Yet in my faith I have less and less room for an interventionist, controlling God who manifests in literal miraculous ways to change the course of history and life so that I can remain silent and inactive, praying all will be well. No, I find God more and more to be one who sparks us to do what we should do to make this world as it should be. I try to worry less and less about historicity, proof or explanation for my or any faith. I am constantly fascinated by the history of faith and religion and see in them all numerous examples of individuals who have given all they have, above and beyond all reason, to their world and their fellow human and in their faith I see the only way they could have felt the call to do so much.

Why do I believe in a God that doesn’t intervene to fix the complete screwed-up-edness of all that surrounds me? I just take it for what it is. Rather than point a finger at God for not fixing things I assume (S)He is pointing that finger at me and giving me the resources and strength to do something about it myself, with that bit of God inside me that is inside all of us. Most of us tramp it down and forget about it, and when we do discover it we feel drawn to either give all and follow it or shut it off and enjoy every last minute of living to the fullest as we can– both reactions are understandable. I always find myself stuck between the two and unsure where to go.

So pray for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Pray so that your compassion grows and your knowledge of all that can happen is ever-present in you so that you make the most of the time that you have on this potentially glorious planet. Pray so that you see them as your neighbors and so that if this brings them to our country seeking placement as refugees you will support, work for and understand policies that admit them and place them in our country. Then text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross for relief efforts or text “Yele” to 501501 to contribute $5 to a relief assistance program set up by musician and Haiti native Wyclef Jean. There are numerous other ways to donate help and money to relief efforts right now, but be careful because like always, nothing brings out those trying to exploit quite like human need– the FBI is already issuing warnings to be wary of false e-mails circulating to scam folks out of money in false relief drives.

Giving my small donation felt like pissing in the wind, to be honest. It still felt like doing the least you can do. But if everyone who says they are praying for the survivors in Haiti also donate 5 or 10 bucks, we can make a dent in this tragedy.

So pray…then do something about it.

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