Prayer that Empowers the Work of Justice

Prayer that Empowers the Work of Justice

Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray; couldn’t hear nobody pray; way down yonder by myself; couldn’t hear nobody pray.  This “spiritual,” was sung as part of a brilliant system of signals devised by men and women attempting an escape from the clutches of American slavery.  The song’s coded meaning was, “An escape attempt has failed.  We’re all trying to re-group, emotionally and spiritually.” The unfortunate persons singing this lament found themselves in imminent danger.  Their best plans toward freedom had not worked; and there existed an immediate need for help, for direction, for protection, for divine intervention.  They needed to hear somebody pray!

In 2012, one-hundred forty-five years since the abolition of one of America’s most immoral and ungodly institutions, we are still making escape attempts that seem to be failing.  Many who seek to maintain oppression of the poor, the “different,” and the disenfranchised, work tirelessly and diabolically.  These oppressors are often supported by well-contrived policies, institutions, and systems rooted in generations of privilege, greed, self-righteousness, and spiritual hardness of heart.

As people called by God to do the work of justice, we need prayer.  Despite the successes of the past, we find ourselves with much to do.  We work to provide escape from ignorance, but our schools systems are failing our children.  We work so that everyone can be healed, but our healthcare system is failing the poor.  We work to escape poverty through opportunities for equitable paying jobs, but our economy is failing workers.  Our environment is suffering; our food system is vulnerable; our political system is disappointing.  Something has gone wrong.  The escape attempts have failed.  We must regroup spiritually and emotionally.

Many who fight to ensure the rights of others too often find themselves drained, not only emotionally and spiritually, but physically and mentally.  Justice work is never-ending and many fighters are feeling the years.  Many are falling to illness and to the strain of oppression.  Some are almost burnt out from the evil of “-isms”, i.e. racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, etc.  The intellectual impact of knowing the unadulterated statistics and the emotional weight of seeing the facial expressions of those living with declining quality of life are almost too much to bear.  Workers and advocates for justice are moaning the haunting tune that signals the call to hear the prayer back-up of their sisters and brothers in Christ.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

The struggle for freedom, equality, and human rights, and equal justice requires prophetic vision, divine power, and superhuman endurance that can only come from God.  We must pray that God would grant the clarity of God’s prophetic vision for justice.  We must pray that God will highlight the strategic directions needed to wisely navigate the complicit policies, contradictory procedures, and conscious perplexity of the failing systems.  Prayer must be made, individual by individual, organization by organization, and congregation by congregation.  Most of all, let us pray as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prayed, “Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth; help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart.”

The United Church of Christ has more than 5,277 churches throughout the United States.  Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation.  UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.

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