In the recent week, there had been two mass casualty events – the Boston bombing and the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. Most Christians will point to these things as the ‘sign of the times’ or ‘Jesus is near.’ Other radicals will point to this as America’s punishment for sins. People will use tragedy to further their cause – pro/against guns, closing the borders, hate another religion, blame the government etc. However, the average Christian, who have picked up a bible at some point in their lives will understand the power of prayer.
Despite my sabbatical from direct religious involvement, I do understand the power of prayer. Prayer not for the lost or that the world will become suddenly peaceful but prayer for strength to continue despite all the madness. I realize that whether someone blames God or praises God the truth is we have no power to change or stop things from happening. The only power we possess is the ability to gather our strength and whatever faith you have and move forward.
It’s interesting that people in other countries live with similar tragedies on a regular basis-which is sad when you think of it. For us, who have a somewhat peaceful enough existence, such craziness is very hard to fathom. In moments like these, it is easy to lose oneself in despair but for the Christians who believe in something more, then there is at least a slight glimmer of hope for some inner peace because of our beliefs.
No matter what the level of one’s faith or church attendance, prayer is a free and open line to God. It is usually the easiest tool to use in a Christian’s arsenal to bolster us when the world becomes more crazy than usual. We have the ability to pray for the families affected by both tragedies and the tool to pray that a whole city come together to help each other. Despite the US fight against public declaration of Christianity, one of the first things that people tend to do is pray and call on the local religious leader for spiritual strength. I guess it would be fair to say that the US has become closet Christians who are only allowed out in public after tragedies. Whatever the status, it is good to see that active or dormant Christians have not forgotten the power of prayer.
So a few weeks ago I visited a church while staying with a friend. If you follow my blog, then you will know that it has been many moons since my last church visit and ages before that. No, I did not burst into flames or was struck by lightning from God’s wrath due to my absence. As always, the church was beautiful and everything went according to the church rituals.
It so happened that this was graduation week for that college town and so many visitors were there. I sat through the whole service and concluded that I only liked two aspect of the church service – the sermon which was done by a visiting pastor and the musical ensemble. I love classical music and it has been years since I was at a concert so it was nice to see and hear the ensemble. Everything else I could do without especially the closing prayer given by one of the graduating students.
Before I get to the self-serving revenge prayer, I have to talk about my issues with mass prayer. The first thing is kneeling. I was taught as a child to kneel on the floor to pray (I tried kneeling in bed but my parents would not have it). The problem is not the prayer but the fact that kneeling always hurts my knees and therefore is a distraction. Instead of taking my time to do a God talk moment, I rush through the prayer (and trying not to get into trouble with my parents as a kid) in order to end the torture on my knees. This is the same issue I have with church prayers, I just can’t focus because I can’t wait to quit kneeling and end the pain. The other thing is church mass prayers are designed to be so long-winded. When the person praying starts going on and on and on, then I naturally tune them out or find my mind wandering. I guess for me when it comes to prayer, I totally subscribe to the going into your closet to pray suggestion. I just don’t find public prayers as meaningful as they are intended to be.
So it was the end of the wonderful sermon (I got a really good lesson about expectations and never giving up when you fall). The gentleman came up to the pulpit to start his prayer. At first, I was not sure if he was preaching or praying. He had the intonation of a Southern black minister who was on a roll. At first I am thinking, is he flexing his ability to preach or was he attention seeking? If that was all, I would have been okay but then he started to use the pulpit and the prayer as a way to exact verbal revenge. I had no knowledge of the bur that started his fiery feelings but I deduced from his so-called prayer that he was not happy with some incident that involved him and school administration. He particularly asked divine guidance for the teachers and school president. However, the request was less than Godly and more rebuking (but with church appropriate words). As he continue into his preaching (disguised as prayer) long tirade, I could not help but wonder “why the hell are you using this venue to air your grievance?”
When did the pulpit become a place to curse those who did wrong to you? He is not the first person to do this. Many pastors will use the pulpit to air certain things and you know that they are speaking about a particular incident. As much I have
some many reservations about organized religion, I do not want to hear personal shit during the church hour on the days I actually attend a church service. The briefly unfortunate thing was this new graduate’s vengeance actually ruined a wonderful church moment for me. His prayer was unnecessarily preachy and over the top not to mention his obvious contempt for the school management. Once he was done with his verbal diarrhea my mood was saved by the ensemble playing to help usher the congregation out. Music saved the day.
Mental illness has held a very distasteful stigma since the dawn of time. During the bible period, when it was mentioned, people who had mental issues were quietly put away and forgotten. With all the liberation this world has experienced, mental illness is still unsupported and not addressed in the church. Well, to be corrected, when the pastors do preach mental health, some usually use prayer in the same sentence as a cure. Some will go as far as to say that the cause of any mental illness is because the person does not have a good relationship with God or open to evil influences.
Depression in both men and women (the symptoms are at times manifested very differently in the sexes) affects everyone including ‘devoted church people.’ It is hard to believe that this particular ailment, being so prevalent in the general populace, is not being acknowledged in the churches. Unawares to many, there are church members who are considered ‘functioning depressive.’ This describes people who are generally unhappy with or without suicidal thoughts, hopeless feelings etc but still fight to be able to hold it together for church worships, going to work Mondays through Fridays and appear ‘normal.’ The difference is these devoted Christians suffer in silence. The face of today’s mental illness is not some wild, unkept person, ranting and raving nonsense. It is you, your neighour, your church brother or sister; It is people you do not suspect.
It has nothing to do with one’s faith. It is something that just is and many Christians experience a troubled mental state at one aspect of their lives or another while others struggle with it throughout. Praying things away have not always worked; neither is hiding it under a bushel. Jesus, interestingly, mingled with the crazies and it took an act of God to cure them but for some reason, the modern religious zealots believe that prayer will do the trick. This is not to say that prayer does not help and miracles happen.
It means that sometimes additional help and support in conjunction with prayer is needed and should be encouraged. Mental illness is not a sin anymore. It is not different from someone seeking help for cancer, asthma, or needing glasses because s/he can not see. How does the church handle mental illness? The crazy thing is there is no answer because like a lot of things that affect Christians, the church remains silent or absent.