Post-Tragedy Prayer — By Dan Pearce
As one who is outspoken on his Catholic faith, I sometimes get asked, “Hey Dan, why didn’t you speak up about this national tragedy? You overshare your thoughts on everything on Facebook. Why not this?”
My answer is a bit complicated. It’s not that I don’t find it abhorrent. I find our gun laws in this country far too relaxed, and we have not put forth enough effort to fight against the mental health issues we face. I find any senseless and violent loss of life to be a tragedy, and I mourn for the losses that are suffered at the hands of those conscious of the violent acts that they are committing.
The key for me, is conscious. With some, not all, of the attackers facing mental health issues, it becomes a question of function and intent. Are these attackers functioning at a full mental capacity to decipher right from wrong, and if not, are they conscious of what they intend? For those that end their lives after committing acts of violence, we do not know the answers that we seek.
We, as a society are left to pick up the pieces because we are conscious of the tragedies and the hatred that we witness. We see groups gathered in churches or in stores or in night clubs or in schools, and we send empathetic prayers of comfort to their families for their losses because these are senseless acts of violence.
The thing is we, as a society, already have consciously committed too many senseless acts of violence under the guise of different names. We may call it ‘2nd amendment rights’ or ‘women’s healthcare’ or ‘war’ or ‘sport’, but just as ‘Love is love is love is love,’ violence is violence is violence is violence.
We sit here and criticize one for being senseless and wrong and motivated by the bigotry that they express through their aggressive and violent actions but justify other forms of killing by those with similar motives. In committing ourselves to our own wants, we, as a society, are consciously choosing to ignore the violence that we endorse and choosing to forget about the responsibility we have to protect our fellow neighbor. We make it acceptable and choose to ignore the harm we commit against our fellow men and women.
It can be difficult to express the outrage that I feel because I’m too busy trying to digest the outrage of others. Given the fact that we live in an information age, where we are bombarded with ‘takes’ on a given topic, we are not only asked to react to the source material or event, but also the ‘takes’ themselves.
So imagine my surprise when the beauty of prayer is perverted by those who see it as nonaction. I’m not suggesting that the prayer should not be followed by action. Prayer and works go hand in hand.
I’m talking about those that see it as something that is done senselessly. I do not know if their emotional state after a shooting or some sort of national tragedy motivates their behavior, in how they react to prayer, or if they truly do not understand it.
I have a hard time speculating to one’s exposure to prayer itself because prayer is an exercise that lends itself to the religious and nonreligious alike, and that’s good. You don’t need to be religious to pray.
Even if you know nothing of prayer, you still are aware of what it means to believe in something or someone. You understand that putting your faith in others means that you trust them. Think of that, but on a higher plane.
However, for those that are religious, they, like me, can sometimes feel confused by the outrage over the act, as if prayer will not accomplish anything. As if it will not provide some sense of clarity in a time of chaos. As if it will not bring a mindful sense of peace in times of distress. As if the act is somehow counterproductive.
For those that do not believe, that is okay, but I’m going to use a metaphor used to promote the policies and science behind climate change. Even if you do not believe that the Earth is becoming warmer and that we need to create more environmentally friendly policies in order to sustain our existence as a species, isn’t taking those types of precautions the most logical thing you can do, just in case?
Think of the different religions as different areas in science. They all function to promote the development of humanity and its resources. With that being said, isn’t praying to God, Yahweh, Allah, etc. the most logical thing you can do, even if you do not believe in God? Wouldn’t you want to be sure and take those precautions, in order to ensure yourself a better existence, just as you would with environmental policies?
I know… I know… There is a tangibility issue that many cannot seem to get over in that analogy, but consider that those that enter a church, a synagogue, a mosque, or some building of worship, see their faith to be tangible. Their prayer is their voice. It motivates them when they cast their ballots, and it helps them get up in the morning. Many consider it to be who they are.
Identity is hard to argue against, especially when the identity of one person can affect the identity of others. For example, many who enjoy firearms identify themselves as such and utilize that identity as the means to which they live their life. They blow off steam in the gun range, and most of them pride themselves on being beacons of information on firearm safety.
They bring this identity into the voting booth, and though the vote of one may seem insignificant, it matters to the person who casted it. If that person and those similar to him cast their ballots similarly, and those identities pair with identities that support other policy changes, things become different.
I am not to say that change is bad or that identities are incorrect. I’m saying that we, as a society, look to them to provide guidance. In looking toward your identity, you are often seeking answers on subjects that can often be found on the political and socioeconomic landscape. While attempting to understand where you stand and why you stand there, you may learn more about who you are and what you stand for. For example, faith and prayer can be your identity, just as taking down the economic and social inequalities that so many in this country face is for many. These are the differences that we carry, and these are the differences we see in the losses of life during a national tragedy.
We see a 2-year-old’s life cut short after going to church with their family, and we see the elderly praying to God as their life ends abruptly and violently. We see those shopping at the store or learning in their classroom or walking down the street or being a role model and an example in their community being cut down, and we are asked to react, when the reality is that we, as a society, have already accepted violence by so many other names, making it nearly impossible to understand what a loss of life truly means.
We accept it every time we see war as necessary, just as we accept it when we refer to abortion as healthcare. We cannot and should not play a shell game of words when it comes to the tragic and violent end to human life, and we cannot truthfully express our outrage shooting after shooting when we are part of the problem.
We’ve already accepted these ends, and that is for us, as a society to own. This is the outrage that we need to express. We need to own our part, and be the change that we want to see in the world. We need to accept prayer as more than just part of the grieving process and as an aspect of an identity that many carry and cannot be judged for. We need to live with our neighbor in mind and create. Create the policies necessary so that everyone can be taken care of and protected. See the parts of yourself in someone different than you and try to relate to their situation. Continue to be the best you that you can be, and live your life with the grace knowing that you act in accordance of what you know to be right.
Dan Pearce is a Chicago-native and an alum of the University of Missouri and the St. Thomas More Newman Center. He currently is an Online Editor for MensDivorce.com at Cordell Practice Management Group and lives in St. Louis with his Mizzou and Newman Center alumna wife, Rachael.