"To read widely, and often, is thus to hope to be changed, to still believe that change is possible. It is never, ever a waste of time. Be it an essay or short story or novel or article, a good read never goes unanswered because a good read opens up a world that requires our attention. That might be the inner world of the self, it might be the domestic world of a family relationship, or it could be the plight of a whole people." - Kester Brewin
This article has made me want to finally voice my comments on these past couple weeks concerning some of the remarks I have seen about Vilonia.
Often prayer is used as a mechanism for non-activity. I don't mean to say whether or not prayer does anything, what I mean to say is that prayer is sometimes used by people to avoid actually interacting with the situation. I watched (in horror) these past couple weeks as the terrible situation in Vilonia and Mayflower was turned into a soapbox for people to debate whether or not prayer works. On one side was the mantra that people should actually do something, and prayer is not doing anything to help. On the other side, an argument for its effectiveness and the merit of praying for the situation and the people involved. However, both sides have real flaws.
For the side that met the night of, or day after and had a small prayer circle for the people affected by the storms, but then went home to their TVs, books, and hot meals without ever sending clothes, money, food, etc. to the affected places, they must examine themselves and actually ask whether or not they did anything to help, or if they were simply praying to feel like they had helped. I remember a time when I headed into Main Hall at UCA and walked by someone who was crying, after shortly listening to their situation, I simply was at a loss and said that I would pray for them. I have never felt more empty in my life as I did in that moment, because I did nothing for them. I'm sure they appreciated the prayer, but I didn't. I could have and should have done something to physically help them. Returning to the prayer circle, but ignoring what exactly was prayed as treatment to its irrelevance to what I am speaking of, the circle potentially created an avenue to not help while feeling like one has. What is Christianity if it is not activity by emulation of Jesus? It seems to me that praying for God to do something while you have an opportunity to do something as well misses the point. What becomes of God other than some-thing in which people relay the things they know they should be doing as "disciples?" Did Jesus not say "if someone takes your cloak, do not hesitate to give him your tunic?" Well what if someone has had their clock forcibly taken from them and you have not only one, but two?
For the other side, who I am well aware took action, who argued repetitively that prayer does nothing to help, let me explain: You're wrong. Whether or not words that were prayed were relayed to a hyper-being in the beyond who may or may not choose to take action in a given situation is totally irrelevant. When one simply dismisses prayer one must be careful not to also dismiss the people praying. I think of a friend, who was particularly out of place as an intern at a church, being asked to lead the church's prayer group at one people. Though uncomfortable doing it, upon reflecting his observation was, to me, profound: prayer is something in which people call upon God to act as a vanishing mediator for bringing them together. When those moments come where people have lost everything or feel as if they have nothing to live for, the prayer circle is there for total openness and total inclusion. To use my friends description, God as a "vanishing mediator" breaks down the walls that people have built up to hide their brokenness and builds a bridge between people. Thus, the prayer circle becomes something that while praying for people who have suffered seeing the broken walls that were at one time what encompassed the building they called "home," the people who are praying willingly break down the walls around their souls. For the people who quite literally lost everything, prayer can be the thing that allows them to be in control.
I tend to think of prayer through a C.S. Lewis quote: "Prayer is not about speaking to God, it is about listening." I interpret this not as a call to listen to God, but rather as as call to listen to what you're praying. Prayer is a time of meditation and openness, sometimes going beyond what you even think yourself willing to go. Thus, prayer is not about asking an Omni-God to help with the situation as much as it is you trying to find your exact thoughts and feelings on the subject. A proper prayer (as if there is such as thing) could never do anything to prevent someone from acting on what is right. Prayer cannot be something done in response to what you believe, but rather is something done to find out what you believe.