Prayer can give strength to activists. Prayer can remind us of our best selves, helping to galvanize action.
Once again—sadly, once again—we are in the days after a mass shooting in the United States—two actually: El Paso and Dayton. Like the morning after the last massacre and the one before and the one before, this quip has appeared on social media: prayers are nice, but it’s time for action. It appears in many variations, but the theme is the same.
The morning after the Las Vegas Massacre, several rabbis declared on Facebook that "prayer is not enough." That morning I also received a message from a long-time anti-gun activist. She asked: “Do you have a prayer to help give us energy and hope as we fight this battle?”
The contrast was stark. Faith leaders minimizing the importance of prayer while an anti-gun activist—potentially crushed with the enormity of the work ahead—turning to prayer for hope and inspiration.
In the face of gun violence, mass shootings, natural disasters, global warming, homelessness, human trafficking, hunger—the list goes on—there is much work to do.
We must be brave in demanding action. We must get up out of our seats, do something that will make a difference. In the process, let’s not intimate that prayer is irrelevant.
Prayer can give strength to activists. Prayer can remind us of our best selves, helping to galvanize action. It can comfort the wounded and the newly bereaved. Prayer can remind us—when the moment of tragedy has passed—to continue our work. Prayer can unite faith leaders and political leaders with one voice.
Prayer helps us bury the dead and provide solace to their kin. Prayer gives our grief a voice and that voice should be a call to engage in bettering the world.
It’s true that our prayers will not stop a bullet. Prayers won’t keep automatic weapons off the streets. Prayers will not clean up in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Prayer will not feed the hungry or rescue women from sexual slavery. Prayer will not build homes and will not pass legislation. But we have no business believing that about prayer in the first place.
Prayer can be a potent and important part of the solution. We shouldn't expect more of prayer. But we shouldn't expect less, either.
The fight against gun violence is a long one. Pray for the strength to endure. And that will give us a bit more strength to endure.
Much like the songs of protest sung at marches and rallies—which, ironically, are prayers set to music—here’s a psalm of protest:
A Dream of Columbine: Psalm of Protest 13
A dream of Columbine High School,
When the U.S. was beset by guns.
Red with blood,
A dream of Thurston High, Red Lake High and Virginia Tech.
Wet with tears,
A nightmare of NIU and Sandy Hook.
A lament of guns and death,
At Marshall County High, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and Santa Fe High.
With so many others,
Too many dead,
So many wounded and scarred.
How long? How long? How long?
“A Dream of Columbine: Psalm of Protest 13” is © 2019 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
And here’s the prayer I sent my friend, the anti-gun advocate:
Against Gun Violence
God of the slain,
God of the murdered and the victim,
The voice of lamentation echoes across the land.
Wailing beside graves opened too soon,
Weeping beside stains of blood
From the dead and the injured
Pouring forth from bullet wounds:
The child shot,
The domestic assault,
The gang violence,
The mass murder,
The long night of death made easy by guns
And automatic weapons.
The long night of sorrow made easy
By reckless access to machines of slaughter.
Source of justice,
Rock of strength and truth,
You call upon us to stand
In the name of common sense and reason:
To witness on behalf of the innocent and the cut down –
The widowed, orphaned and bereaved –
To answer the scourge of senseless loss,
To advocate for gun control,
To remove military weapons from a civilian population,
To return sanity to our laws, our policies and our lives.
Bless those who dedicate themselves to gun control.
Grant them fortitude and perseverance.
May the work of their hands never falter
Nor despair deter them from their holy calling.
Bless those who are mourning the dead.
Grant them solace and comfort.
Bless those who are healing from the trauma of gun violence.
Grant them lives of health and prosperity,
Joy and peace.
Blessed are You, God of All Being,
Who summons us to choose life,
First, choose life,
“Against Gun Violence” is © 2016 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
Alden Solovy is an acclaimed liturgist of over 700 original works of Jewish liturgy. He facilitates the Ritualwell Immersion, "Ingredients of Prayer: Writing Contemporary Liturgy." His fourth book of new liturgy, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, was recently published by CCAR Press.