A CNN story today made me pause a minute.
It notes that many in the Twitterverse were using the hashtag “prayersforOklahoma” to respond to the natural disasters there, and that this rubs some prominent atheists the wrong way.
Ricky Gervais, an outspoken critic of any religion that presents itself in public, tweeted in response, “I feel like an idiot now … I only sent money.”
He’s what Al Franken calls “joking on the square.” That is, he’s joking. But not really.
And he’s hilarious. And that’s a smart retort. And I wish I had thought of it.
It appears he’s slightly miffed at these tweet-prayers, and I have to say that if all people are doing is praying, then Gervais is right.
He’s right to be miffed if that’s the case.
Because prayer must always lead to action, and all your prayers won’t give blood to the injured, security to the now homeless, or tools for rebuilding.
But what Gervais doesn’t take seriously, and perhaps he should, is that prayer for the religious individual is akin to cursing.
Well, I curse as well as pray…some of us do.
But prayer is that response that happens when you have no control over a situation and you must move it from being an internal response to outside of yourself lest it eat you alive.
Or eat a community alive.
Or eat a nation alive.
So while prayer doesn’t give tools, it is a tool that can be used to share burdens, clarify desires, wants, and things we’re thankful for, and release those things that we have no control over.
And, to be honest, I wonder if Gervais might not need a bit of that release in his life. Don’t call it prayer; fine. Call it what you will: meditation, a “time-out,” therapy, external processing.
But prayer is the lifting up of communal and individual need in such a way that real desire is acknowledged, and hopefully, heard.
Now it is true that Gervais doesn’t believe such prayers are heard by God. But I wonder if Gervais would hear himself better if he prayed.
Look, prayer is not some sort of password that gets God to do what you want. But prayers of thanksgiving and lament often clarify what it is that we want, and is a way to enact change both in ourselves, and hopefully, the world. Communally lifting up people, places, situations, things, graces, disasters…it is important and healthy and necessary.
And the religious individual believes this act builds relationship between the human and the Divine.
And the religious individual, I think, can also agree that prayer helps them to know themselves better, too. It strengthens our relationship with ourselves.
But where we, as a religious community, screw it up is when we respond as this commenter within the CNN article did with this little diddy, “God is still in control!” said Wilbur Dugger, a commenter on CNN’s Facebook page. “Everything (God) does is to get our attention. … My sympathy and prayers go out to those who get caught up in his demonstrations of (God) ruling the world.”
Oh, please. Do we believe this is helpful?
Hell, I don’t even believe what the man wrote is true, let alone helpful. And those are not always mutually exclusive in people’s minds.
Natural disasters happen. Winds whip around. Tragedy strikes. I don’t think God needs a tornado to get the attention of humanity. If anything, the Christian should assert that that’s what Jesus was for…
That kind of response comes from a messed up idea about prayer, and God, and…well, makes me a reluctant Christian sometimes.
And in the face of that response, I’d stand with Gervais and shake my head.
And then I’d probably turn to Gervais and say, “You know Gervais, instead of getting ticked at him, why don’t you externalize it a bit? I call it prayer, but you call it whatever you want…”
And then Gervais might know himself a bit better and not get angry at other people’s issues.
And believe it or not, that changes things.
**By the way, if you’re like me and you pray and curse and it moves you to action, 100% of all donations to ELCA Disaster Response go directly to on the ground work through this link.**