A bomb. A suicide bomber. A suicide. A horrific, terrible something happens. And people shaped by religious traditions often respond first with prayer.
This first response of prayer to bad news is not an isolated act, but often the first of many acts in the face of an unknown future. The fact that religious people often ground their activism and advocacy in prayer is a significant part of the fabric of biblical tradition. Stories of prophets, like Moses, in the Bible recount the continuous prayers lifted up to God on behalf of a suffering people.
When tragedy strikes faith communities know the importance of prayer. It is important for three reasons. First, prayer affirms our relationship with God. Second, prayer affirms our relationship with each other. Third, prayer stirs within us hope for the future.
Prayer is good not because it is magic. Prayer is good because it turns our hearts towards God, the source of peace. Let us never underestimate the power of prayer, like focused rays of sun, to melt away hardened hearts frozen by fear and terror.
In moments of grave concern when my brother was fighting his mental disease through electroshock therapy, he asked me to pray for him and I did. His treatments were not effective. Did prayer fail us? I choose to believe that the prayers silently whispered in the chambers of the heart succeeded in binding brother and sister close to one another and to God.
Yes we need to do more than pray. My brother and other people like him who live with intrusive thoughts of suicide need much more than prayer. However, it would be a tremendous step forward if faith communities would pray for people with mental illness.
As things stand now, where silence about mental illness in the church is the norm, to pray as a faith community for people with mental health challenges would be a radical act. That’s why I believe without a doubt that we need more prayer, not less. Prayer is a positive first step towards raising people’s collective consciousness.