Thoughts and Prayers
So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”-Mark 9:29
After the shooting in Las Vegas, Stephen Colbert began his show with a more serious statement. In it, he reflected on the overuse of the the phrase, “thoughts and prayers”. He encouraged Americans to move beyond from the more stagnant and passive “thoughts and prayer” to something more active and affectual. He ended his reflection by saying these words, “THINK about what you need to do and and PRAY for the courage to do it.”
This is a powerful and in some ways convicting statement for those of us who tend to respond to tragedies like hurricane Irma and Maria and the shooting in Las Vegas in symbolic ways. We send “thoughts and prayers” or we change our profile pictures to to something that symbolizes the region where the tragedy happened. And it’s all very nice. Yet these actions don’t often lead to real change.
And I am not saying these things to shame you or myself (because I do these things too). The truth of the matter many of us are using symbolism because be feel this empathetic human need to do something. Yet we also feel as if we are all out of ideas. We feel drained by the combination of compassion fatigue and anger fatigue. We have protested, prayed, voted, stayed informed, and informed others. Yet nothing has seems to have changed and and the more tragedies happen the more it it doesn’t seem that any change is actually coming.
I think that this must be how the disciples felt when they tried to heal the boy in the text but were unsuccessful. I can imagine immediately after that moment, they must have been on the verge of “thoughts and prayers mode”. Oh your son is sick… we’ll my thoughts and prayers are with him.
But leading up to this moment they were ready. They saw a sick boy and they jumped to action. They had been hanging out with Jesus. They believed. They knew what to do. They were going to heal him. But they couldn’t. As a Oberlin grad and a Union grad who was raised on the prophetic and the “one person can change the world” it hurts when you find out their are limits to what you can actually do, what you can actually change. And if you’re like me you run to Jesus and you say, hey, I’m a prophetic preacher who is the one person who can change the world, why does it feel like I’ve changed and healed literally nothing? Why do I look around and still see oppression and poverty, injustice and white supremacy? Why after that great sermon I preached or after that great protest I marched in do I still see in justice? 11 years after Katrina why do I still see disparities in how aid is given along racial and economic lines?
But what Jesus says to the disciples is important, after he curses them out, is really important. He says two essential things that are important as we fight compassion and anger fatigue and as we fight our own egos about what we should be able to singled handedly heal or restore. He says “bring the boy to me.” And he says “ However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Especially those of us who claim to be doing justice work from a faith base, those of us who make a point to wear our clergy collars to the protest, who feel called to social justice MINISTRY or public ministry. These two points are essential for us. Firstly that at the root of social justice ministry, is ministry. And at the root of ministry is an acknowledgment that there is something/someone bigger than you, who may know more than you, who may have more answers than you. So Jesus says first of all bring the boy to me. Bring the injustice to me, bring the racism to me, bring the overwhelming sense of fatigue and helplessness to me. First bring it to me. First aknwolege that the issue pre-date you and will probably preexist you. So we have to at least try to begin with surrendering these things to a Spirit, an entity or a concept that is big enough to hold it.
Secondly, Jesus goes through all of this stuff about having faith of the mustard seed, which I think the disciples do, and I think most of us do. But he adds that amazing pivot with the word “however” THIS is only going to be healed through fasting and praying.
Because it some things, some issues are bigger than our singular thoughts and prayers. Bigger than our egos’ need to be the one to fix it. There are some things that need pray and some form of action. It may not be actual fasting from food. But it may be. It may be praying and then abstaining from consuming certain images and commodities that perpetuate racial inequities and white supremacist cultural hierarchies. It may be praying and then boycotting the NFL. It may be praying and then not shopping at the big store and giving your money to a small business owned by people of color. It may be praying and donating to an disaster recovery organization that acknowledges systems of oppression.
Thoughts and prayers are good… But prayers that connect you to the source and fasting puts a dent in oppression’s pocket may be the thing that moves and heals and restores.