We’re in shock today after the bomb attack at the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and at least 173 wounded. Many people have lost an arm or leg. The bomb scene was a grisly mess of blood and smoke.
Feeling helpless as we always do at such times, many are saying, “Pray for Boston.” The words themselves are repeated on social media as a kind of prayer, “Pray for Boston, Pray for Boston.” I hear it everywhere.
But what does it mean to pray for Boston? Pray for whom? Pray for what?
Here is what I mean when I say that I am praying for Boston.
Mourn with Those Who Mourn
First, let’s mourn with those who mourn. A fellow clergy person posted an eloquent reflection urging pastors to take their entire service to prayer for Boston on Sunday. She meant that we should acknowledge our community with our brothers and sisters, bearing their burdens, sharing their grief.
What a fitting thing to do. We are members one with another.
When I insulate myself in a cozy Midwestern suburb, far from the suffering of the world, I practice the casual indifference that has created space for racism, classism, hunger, and slavery for thousands of years. When I connect myself to other people by entering into their grief, I take that space away.
Ask for Healing and Strength
Second, let us pray for the healing of those who have been harmed. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones. Others are wounded physically. Many, many people will suffer terror-filled nights in the weeks ahead. We can pray that the Spirit of God will bring them peace of mind and strength in body.
Anyone who has suffered understands how powerful these prayers can be. When you have stood by the graveside of a child or spent a pain-wracked night in a hospital bed or lived with anxiety or panic, the prayer of a friend is a staff to lean on. And we know that God will move in response to our faith.
Third, we can pray for peace. Though it is hard to think of this with the smoke still stinging our eyes, we want more than healing for the trauma; we want an end to violence. We pray for peace.
But prayer is action, and action is prayer, as Henri Nouwen reminds us. What we say to the Lord should result in action. And our acts in the world should overflow from our experience of God.
So if we do not work for peace, there is no point in praying for peace.
We Christians have lately confused two important notions. First, we have confused creating order with establishing of peace. America has become the world’s policeman, and that’s not a bad thing. The world needs a good cop right now, someone to keep order.
But order is not peace. The Soviet Union had order. Iraq under Saddam had order. Order prevents people from killing one another, but it does not make them love. Order allows us to live in the presence of enemies but it does not transform enemies into friends.
To pray for peace is to bring about harmony, tolerance, and community in a deeply divided world.
Second, we have mistaken retribution for justice. If our television police dramas are any indication—and what is more revealing than popular culture?—we don’t merely want wrongdoers removed from society. We want them to suffer. We want them tortured. We want them to feel the pain they have inflicted on others. We don’t want terrorists apprehended. We want them dead, dead, dead.
Retribution does not bring justice. It only perpetuates violence.
Yes, in a just world wrongdoers are apprehended and punished. But justice is more than that. It is fairness, opportunity, and equality for all people. Killing terrorists will not ensure that those of us who remain alive will treat each other with dignity and respect.
So when I say, “Pray for Boston,” I mean—
You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also . . .
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven . . . Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If we pray for peace but take no action to create peace and justice, we may as well save our breath and God’s time.
To pray is to act.
Pray for Boston. Pray for peace.