We prayed for the guy who shot up the congregation in Tennessee.
I don’t pray often, to be honest. My conception of God is that God is a force not at all unlike gravity, pulling at us all the time and changing the way things behave in ways that are so seamless with our reality that we can be forgiven for missing God’s presence. (Yes, you can argue this one out with me if you wish, but that’s not really the point of this post.)
So when I do pray, I’m pretty aware that I’m talking mostly to myself.
I’m also aware of Robertson Davies’ comment “Prayer is petition, intercession, adoration, and contemplation; great saints and mystics have agreed on this definition. To stop short at petition is to pray only in a crippled fashion. Further, such prayer encourages one of the faults which is most reprehended by spiritual instructors -- turning to God without turning from Self”
But I think I can be aware that I’m talking mostly to myself while at the same time trying to remove myself from selfish concerns. But am I motivated to try to remove my thoughts from selfish concerns by Pride or by wanting to feel good about myself for having done so? Eh… Dunno. Either way it seems like a good practice. And besides, we can’t ever completely leave ourselves out. We can look beyond ourselves to some degree, but we’re kind of stuck in the perspective we’re in. A dog who loves one still expresses his affection as dogs express affection.
Still, even among people who do pray as a regular thing, I don’t think praying for those who attack us is very common, even though the bible pretty much straight up says we should pray for everyone. (Ok, that’s the way I read I Timothy 2: 1-4*, given what jerks most of the biblical kings were.) It has given me great pride in Unitarian Universalism to hear about how forgiving we have been and how we have been reaching out in all directions spiritually, not just the easy ones.
Even though I’m a humanist who doesn’t pray much, I see it as crucial for our own dealing with this tragedy to look to the shooter with compassion in any way we can, prayer included**. When we reach out, to heaven and to one another, and call out to those whose personal concerns are well beyond our own, by the very nature of the act we are increasing our own awareness and growing spiritually. Will compassionate thoughts lead to compassionate action, leading to compassionate acts and feelings on the parts of others, setting off a chain of events that makes the world suck less?
Maybe not, but, hell, let’s give it a shot.
*1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
**Ok, if prayer straight up doesn't work for you spiritually, you don't have to pray. Note again that I stretching the concept of prayer somewhat. But the ideas are still worth contemplating on and considering.