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Touching the Grief of God: On Prayer That Leads to Action

It's too easy for those of us in the West who are accustomed to hearing about upheaval in the Middle East to dismiss it as business as usual. It is easy for those of us who are not in Ferguson to forget that what happened there is not extraordinary.
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It has been a brutal few months. We saw the Middle East burning as our TV screens filled with images of the broken bodies of innocent children in Gaza. Meanwhile, here in our own backyard, we were witness to the death of an unarmed black teenager and the subsequent outcry, which was met by a militarized police force, outfitted with the overflow of equipment once used in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As activists once again gathered in Ferguson this weekend to protest police brutality and call attention to the fact that injustice here on our own streets is a threat to justice everywhere, we wonder: what is the most effective way to move forward?

It's too easy for those of us in the West who are accustomed to hearing about upheaval in the Middle East to dismiss it as business as usual. It is easy for those of us who are not in Ferguson to forget that what happened there is not extraordinary and in fact happens with alarming regularity. And it is all too easy to look at those things as separate and unrelated. Yet, it is the same logic that kills the children of Gaza and the children of Ferguson. It is the same numbness to violence and unwillingness to see ourselves in the people suffering that keep us from acting in ways that demand change.

It is very common during these times of escalating violence and civil unrest to hear religious and political leaders calling for calm and prayers of peace. It is common for all of us to talk about what's happening in the Middle East and in Ferguson in ways that reduce these conflicts and their players to narratives that make it easy for us to separate ourselves from the tragedy of what is taking place there. We want these stories to disappear from our TV screens so we can easily let go and feel like something has been resolved, never wanting to address the complexities of what leads to such uprisings.

We move into a space of avoidance. We avoid direct contact with pain. We hope for a quick solution that doesn't involve us and doesn't require anything from us because getting involved either directly or indirectly could cost too much. And with religious traditions advocating for inner peace as the highest spiritual achievement, we are all too willing to stay comfortably in our own inner peace-zone rather than face the horror of what others are experiencing.

But does God live there? Does She occupy the numbness of our hearts? Or is She crying with her children whose souls and bodies are violated daily by war and what enables it?

Witnessing these questions and what they evoke we can still hear the words of our friend Chris Saade. In a recent conversation with him, in which he talked about his own path that led him to the work he's been called to for years - spiritual inclusion, global solidarity, and social justice in action - he talked about how, by allowing himself to touch the pain of war and suffering as a young man growing up in war-torn Lebanon, rather than to avoid it or pray it away, he was moved to inspired action. He said "Grief is sacred and when we touch the grief of God, we realize that our own grief is sacred and the source of creative engagement." It is when we allow our own hearts to bleed, as the "heart of God must be bleeding over what the structures of domination have done" that we can move beyond seeing what's happening to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Ferguson as routine. As Chris says, we don't need to choose between being peaceful or outraged. We can, and should be, peaceful and outraged.

To where should this lead us? To prayerful radical action on behalf of a world our hearts know is possible. We pray for courage to be willing to be broken by the senseless violence. We pray to grieve the loss of human life and from this place of grief be inspired to heartfelt action. We pray that we can take stands that are not always comfortable. We pray that we can have real power to use who we are and what we have in service of changing the structures of oppression here at home, so situations like the one in Ferguson don't have to define the lives of young black youth, and that internationally, our country won't be an instrument for naive partisan actions that break countries and continents. We pray for understanding that the goal of prayer is action. We pray, in the words of Dorothy Soelle, "God you are not here to solve my problems, but I am to solve yours".

We pray knowing that God is not neutral but rather that She always takes the side of the poor, the abused, and the broken. We pray asking for energy to dedicate our lives to the path of change and transformation. We pray, asking the saints like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Malcolm X, and others for guidance. Yes, we are praying for peace, but we are not praying for the peace of religious leaders hiding behind the walls of separation and privilege. We are not praying for the peace of politicians who are all too used to sending other people's children to war. We are praying for peace rooted in the transformative power of love and non-violence. Peace that is big enough to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressors. We are praying for peace that gives us energy to act. We pray and act knowing that our destinies are intertwined and that we need to be responsible for each other if we are to survive as a species and reach the fullness of life promised to us by our holy scriptures.

We need to find the reasons for our unwillingness to act. We need to deconstruct and reconstruct our selves so we can be ready to act on the behalf of those who are hurting. We need to gather in small groups of friends and help each other to commit to living our lives in a way that can infuse healing into our broken world. We need to pray so we can act in a new way. Our actions need to address the oppression we participate in. Our actions need to bring healing into how we relate to each other. We need to touch the grief of God, fearlessly, and offer ourselves up as instruments of peace, holy outrage and non-violent radical action for a world that works for all.