In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:35–38)
We are currently living through a worldwide pandemic and a cultural revolution—simultaneously. And although both of these are, and have been, at the forefront of our minds and media in recent months, we also know that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement are long term. Pandemics don’t just disappear overnight, and racial justice and equity is a long and difficult road. Recognizing this, I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of prayer.
As we see in the gospel passage above, prayer and action go hand in hand. Throughout the gospels we frequently see Jesus go off by himself to pray. He doesn’t do so to escape what is going on around him, but rather to deepen his relationship with his father and fortify himself for the work ahead. He withdraws to pray, then goes back to teach, preach, and heal people. Then he withdraws again for prayer, and the cycle repeats. Prayer leads to action, and action leads to prayer.
We have immense work to do in this country around systemic racism. Police brutality against black people is the focus at the moment, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. The fact that we are trying to do this essential justice work in the midst of a pandemic greatly complicates matters. I have participated in a couple of marches and demonstrations, but they have certainly felt riskier than ones I participated in prior to the pandemic. I have spoken with parishioners who are itching to be on the streets but can’t because the risk of COVID is too high. So what else can we do? We can intentionally educate ourselves about the issues surrounding racism in the United States. Books, podcasts, articles, online panel discussions, movies, and conversations with friends are all available to us in our own homes. We can petition our government leaders to implement police reform. We can encourage people to vote in the upcoming elections. We can contribute to organizations that are doing important justice work in our community. And of course, in the midst of all of this we follow Jesus’s example of prayer informing action, and action informing prayer.
One of the things that drew me to St. Peter’s was its diversity—in many forms! I was impressed that our church is intentionally diverse and that we talk about our diversity and learn from one another. We aren’t afraid to have difficult conversations around race, sexual orientation, or economic disparity (just to name a few). We learn together, pray together, and work for justice together. Although we are physically separated right now, this work continues. I encourage you to spend time in prayer around what Jesus is calling you to do right now, and then find ways to turn that prayer into action.
The Reverend Amanda C. Stephenson, Associate Rector