From The Rector…
In times of crisis and suffering we tend to pray in one of two ways: miracle prayers or what Sam Wells calls “resurrection” prayers and comfort prayers aka “incarnation” prayers. Resurrection prayers are prayers that ask God to do some great work. For instance, make the cancer miraculously go away. It calls on God for a miracle. Incarnational prayers are the ones where we tend to say, “Be with my family member, friend, stranger, etc. in their tine of suffering and need. These kinds of prayers recognize the great comfort and love God knew we needed and thus sent his son to live amongst us. They stir us to action through our own sense of compassion that we see witnessed in the life of Jesus. There is another kind of prayer, and it is this third type of prayer that has helped me in the days since the shooting at St. Stephen’s.
I can still remember the first text I got about St. Stephen’s. I hadn’t seen the news yet as I don’t get news alerts on my phone and I rarely watch television. There was something urgent in the text though it did not mention the shooting, so I immediately started googling to see what was going on. As soon as I realized what had happened, I sent texts and called friends who were connected to St. Stephen’s. I began to feel a weight on my shoulders that would only grow heavier in the days to come. I listened to tears and fear and sorrow poured out by those I had contacted. The only St. Stephen’s clergy in town at the time was Katherine Harper and she was in a daze. I felt completely helpless though another clergy friend told me they were doing a very impromptu prayer vigil, so we followed suit.
That Thursday night, only a few hours after the shooting, we opened the doors of the church and rang the bells and prayed. About thirty people showed up though several more texted me that they wanted to be there, but life got in the way. It was good to gather and to pray—it offered comfort and solace to be with so many others who were also seeking some way of offering this horrific event to God and trying to find meaning.
I don’t know that anyone will ever truly understand what happened, but that night we strengthened one another and held one another up in that gathered community. That has played out in churches across the diocese these last few weeks. From the prayer vigil at St. Luke’s on Friday morning following the shooting to the words of the bishop and her staff in the media and pastoral communications to the funerals and the Rev. John Burruss’s comments. The more we have come together in the days following this tragedy, the stronger we have become. And that leads me to the third kind of way we can pray in this time or any time of suffering—the prayer of transfiguration.
Transfiguration prayer is the prayer to witness God’s glory even in our deepest, darkest hours. It is the prayer that we, like Peter and James and John, might climb that mountain and see God displayed in all his dazzling glory. It is not a prayer about us or about the suffering or about a desire for a miracle. It is a prayer that situates God in the center of our experience and helps us to find the small moments when we witness God’s greatness. Sam Wells says it is the prayer that asks that this “trial and tragedy, this problem and pain, [offer] a glimpse of your glory, a window into your world, when I can see your face, sense the mystery in all things, and walk with angels and saints.” That is the prayer that has allowed my yoke to become easy and my burden light.
When I walked into St. Luke’s for the prayer vigil Friday morning, the first person I ran into was Michael Yancey, the Senior Warden of St. Stephen’s. I grew up with Michael’s wife, Mary, from kindergarten through high school and beyond. We have been friends since we were six years old. She was the first person I called after I found out about the shooting. For Michael to be the first person I saw at St. Luke’s that morning was a sign of God’s glory. The dazzling was beginning to break in and over the next few days grew all the brighter—the heaviness I was carrying began to wane.
There is nothing wrong with prayers of resurrection or incarnation—they are important and powerful prayers. But they are not the only prayers we are equipped with when we find ourselves mired in the muck of life and unable to see clearly. Pray the prayer of transfiguration—find the glory of God in the pain and suffering and trouble. It is there if we have eyes to see. It will not make that pain go away, but it will lessen the hopeless, helpless feeling of a world shrouded in shadow.
Light and Life,