If you have been following this blog for a while, you know that I am a spiritual seeker with an insatiable desire to learn more about new-to-me topics – especially ones that help me better understand people and cultures that are different from me. (And if you are newer to this blog, no worries! Just read the items linked above, and you’ll be all caught up.) 🙂
So when I first learned about the National Day of Prayer a few years back, I thought it would be a good event for me to participate in at least one time – just so I could see what it was about, and perhaps gain more insights into and/or appreciation for conservative Christians (a religious group I do not understand [and often disagree with]).
I had no idea how an event like this might unfold, so I think I went into it with minimal expectations – which I like, as that allows me to more fully experience whatever actually occurs (versus get bogged down by what I think “should” happen). I did my best to walk through the main doors of a local participating church with an open mind and a receptive heart, ready to be led in whatever way the universe/god/a higher power felt best.
I arrived at the designated house of worship at 6:20 am. As I made my way into the church’s foyer, I was greeted warmly by a middle-aged woman (who was incredibly alert for the early hour). She directed me to a gathering room where the event was about to begin, invited me to put on a name tag, and encouraged me to help myself to whatever refreshments I might want. After securing a cup of tea, I sat down at a table next to a newly married couple in their early 20s, a 47-year-old writer and father of two teenage girls, one semi-retired woman in her 50s, and two retired stay-at-home moms in their early 60s. We each took turns introducing ourselves, and engaged in polite chit-chat as more people trickled into the room.
By 6:30 am, the meeting space held twenty people. All of us were white, and (save for the newly married couple) middle-aged or slightly older. The chipper woman who greeted me when I first entered the church walked to the front of the room, stood behind a podium, and asked us all to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. We did as we were asked, and at the end of the recitation the woman smiled at us and said, “That warms my heart. You know, we don’t say the Pledge very often any more, do we?” She continued to explain that she recently volunteered at the elementary school her daughter attends, and was shocked to discover that the students no longer say the Pledge each morning. She concluded, “It’s appalling that we have removed God and country from our schools – especially now, as this great nation needs our prayers and repentance more than ever.”
At this moment, I knew my best course of action for making it through the rest of the event without offending anyone, making myself irate, or being kicked out of the building, was to approach this task like a reporter would approach an assignment – to take nothing personally, but instead make notes of the facts from a purely objective standpoint. I quickly pulled out a small blank journal and pen, and documented the high-level events that transpired.
The gathering was structured as follows: One pre-determined speaker went to the podium and read Bible passages/offered prayers relevant to one particular facet of the country. Once the leader finished his/her prepared comments, anyone else in the room could take a few minutes and share a prayer on that topic area if they wanted to. After everyone who wanted to offer a prayer had done so, the next leader came to the podium, and the process repeated itself with the second topic area, then the third, and so on, until all seven topic areas had been addressed.
The first prayer topic was “Our Government”, and the Bible passages that were read were:
– First Timothy 2:1-2
– Exodus 18:21
– Proverbs 21:1
– Psalms 9:20
Topic #2 was “The Military”, and the Bible passages offered were:
– Psalms 18:32
– Psalms 28:7
– Isaiah 20:49
– Psalms 34:18
– Deuteronomy 33:12
– Lamentations 3:21-22
– Romans 5:5
– Numbers 30:2
– Ephesians 6:11
– Psalm 91
The leader made a special effort to call attention to those who are currently serving in the military, those who are or have been wounded, those who have died in service, veterans, and the families of all service members past and present.
The third focus area was “The Media”, and the leader for this section offered a single Bible verse: Philippians 4:8.
After the media came “Business, Industry, and Commerce”, and the leader here cited:
– Isaiah 48:17
– Deuteronomy 30:2-4
– Job 42:10
– Malachi 3:10
– Matthew 6:19-20
– Luke 19:13
At this point, when the opportunity for open prayer sharing came, I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer. After hearing no less than five different petitions for more domestic manufacturing and a revival of Christ-centered businesses whose employees are unafraid to exert their First Amendment rights to practice their Christian faith boldly and proudly in the workplace, I calmly-but-confidently offered prayers for: fair wages around the world, environmental protection (specifically, 1] that businesses stop stripping the land of natural resources simply so that they can access cheap fuel, and 2] that businesses take steps to reduce pollution that currently results from cheap mass manufacturing), and that all beings receive what they need in order to live healthy, happy, and peace-filled lives.
Interestingly, once I finished my prayer, the next speaker scrambled to the podium and began the next topic area, which was “Education”. Here again a sole Bible verse was offered: Proverbs 3:5-6.
After Education came “The Church”, and the speaker read aloud one passage: Matthew 16.
The event closed with a focus on “Family”, and this leader called attention to Bible verses:
– Psalms 92:12-15
– Hebrews 10:23-24
– John 10:4-5
– Isaiah 54:13
– Luke 2:52
– Psalms 102:18
Throughout the course of the above readings, this speaker focused on multiple elements of family, including parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren.
During each speaker’s prepared comments as well as during the open sharing sections, I took notes of various words and phrases that kept surfacing. Here’s a visual summary of the session themes:
When the final segment of “open sharing” drew to a close, the original facilitator (i.e., the greeter woman who led us through the Pledge of Allegiance) encouraged each of us to make prayer an integrated, working part of our daily lives, then cheerily wished that we all “Have a good morning!” I found this happy send-off rather jarring, because for the previous two hours, most of the individuals in the meeting room had been at some stage of crying (some weeping mildly and silently, others with tears flowing freely, and a few wailing aloud) and complaining (or “praying”, as they liked to call it). Yet on a dime, the tears were wiped away, the pained faces were replaced with smiles, and everyone happily skipped off to the parking lot to slip into their vehicle and drive away. I was simultaneously stunned and surprised.
During the event, so many things were said that I do not agree with (and in some cases I outright oppose), and hearing the barrages of comments hit on many raw nerves within me. But I tried to let those things slide away (as I know in my heart that the majority of the sentiments shared during the gathering were fear-based and simply untrue), and instead chose to focus on the few messages of genuine peace and love that did surface – such as:
- “Bless the work of the men and women in the military, that their light would shine on all of those around them as they move throughout the world.” [My interpretation: Let these individuals be instruments of peace and love.]
- “Place a hedge of protection around the little hearts and minds of our children, that they may remain centered on what is good, honorable, and true.” Amen to that! Imagine what could happen if all children remained untainted by prejudice and hate.
- “Deliver us from a world of self-absorbed media and meaningless trivia.” Absolutely. If all people traded one hour of reading Facebook for one hour of volunteering, think of the tremendous positive impact that could have! (Not only on the people being ‘helped’, but also [especially] on the ones giving the ‘helping’.)
- “So often it is about us. Break us of our selfishness.” Yes, yes, yes.
- “Prayer matters. What we think about and pray for are the ripples that begin to move us to action.” So true. What one thinks, one becomes. So choose thoughts wisely – because ideas become intentions, and intentions ultimately turn into actions.
My intention for this 101 item was to gain insight into (and maybe even appreciation for) conservative Christians. While this experience did more to confirm my initial perceptions of this religious group than it did to offer me new perspectives, I am still pleased that I participated in a National Day of Prayer event at least once. (And who knows, maybe I was able to affect a few hearts or minds in the room?) That being said, I don’t think I need to go to one of these gatherings again next year (or the year after that, or the year after that…) I feel better sticking to my more liberal ways. 🙂