Yes. Yes a thousand times.
Every time something like this happens, I dread the platitudes, the “prayers up!” messages, the ways in which we’ve made faith into some kind of dodge that makes us good people. Like if we think and pray, that gets us out of something. Like that’s what we have to do.
It’s insulting, and not just to people for whom prayer is talking to an imaginary, ridiculous friend.
It’s insulting to people for whom prayer is a real act of faith. It’s insulting to people for whom prayer is critical, is active and purposeful and rooted in moving the world forward.
Prayer is not mouthing of memorized words with hands folded before bedtime. Prayer is not “thank you for Grandma and my pony and my plastic rocket.” Prayer is not “please God let it not rain on circus day.” Prayer is not even “please God, let me live.” Prayer is not a never-ending, whiny wish list directed upward at an unknowable, unanswering deity.
Prayer is directed at other people.
Prayer is getting up every day before dawn, and baking bread.
Prayer is delivering letters in the pre-dawn light of early winter.
Prayer is lending a neighbor a shovel when there’s a blizzard. Prayer is bringing a snowed-in neighbor some food.
Prayer is digging a well where there is no water. Prayer is planting a crop where there is no food. Prayer is doing the dishes. Prayer is holding the baby. Prayer is laundry. Prayer is standing on a factory line and repeating the same task over and over and over and over for 20 years, until your hands and your knees and your hearing are gone, and all you have left to pray for is the drive home, the lunchbox your spouse packed sitting full on the seat next to you because you didn’t have time for a break.
Prayer is sweeping the front porch.
Prayer is poetry, too, but poetry meant to spur action: Singing to a god of the glory of its creation, calling others to that glory, using the only voice a poet has to bring people together for a common purpose. Prayer does something.
Prayer is love, and love is work, or it is nothing. Anyone can sing a song.
And prayer like that has moved mountains and it has built cities and it has brought the walls of Jericho down. Prayer like that would take the events of today and shake the foundations of this country until our fear-mad politics and our angry, resentful culture came tumbling down, too. Prayer like that would pass laws. Prayer like that would make this one the last one.
So when we say our prayers are with the victims of a crime, we’d better mean our backs are bent to work to help them, or we’re not talking about our prayers.