Today, much to my surprise, I find that I am carrying my prayer beads. They have languished for years. I only dug them out of my desk drawer this morning, when I saw their red brightness blinking out at me.
I need something to hold on to.
I felt the events of yesterday like a shock wave. The execution of Troy Davis. The suicide of bullying victim Jamey Rodemeyer. The lack of support for Palestine’s statehood. The way the U.S. is taking the pensions of another nation’s citizens.
It sorrows me to the bone.
I do not know what to do, so I find myself returning to old habits. I carry my prayer beads and turn them in my hand. I don’t even remember the words any more, which used to come without hesitation. Instead with each bead I simply say: “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.”
I have not practiced organized religion for the better part of five years now. Jesus is no longer an living deity to me, but rather my deepest, most rooted teacher who’s teachings live within me, like a genetic predisposition to love. A very skilled theologian said to me recently that those postmodernists who still go to church do so because they want to be connected to a narrative that calls them out to a different way of living. Though I do not go to church, I am living out that story as well. My friend The Vicar calls this narrative “The way of the cross.”
The way of the cross
Typically when I see the cross, I cringe. I experience the cross as violence. As a child, every year at my religious school a speaker would tell me, in vivid detail, just how brutal and bloody the cross really was. So it’s no wonder I react with revulsion. Yet now, in the face of executions and suicide, I am seeing the cross in another light.
Perhaps the way of the cross is not the violent death of Jesus, but his reaction to it.
This is not a new theory. The Anabaptists have taught me this before. Theories of non-violent atonement have offered me an alternate interpretation. But today the coin dropped and I felt, in my body, what the way of the cross could be for me.
According to the testimony of Jesus, the way of the cross is not an eye for an eye. The way of the cross is not uprising and revenge. The way of the cross is not ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Rather, the story of the cross demonstrates this: Turn the other cheek. Pray for those who persecute you.
On a personal level I live this way. Or try to as best as my evolving self knows how. But as a member of a nation, I do not. I cannot.
I do not feel a particular allegiance to the governance of this nation. I don’t pledge. I often feel like a stranger here. But I do experience the power of Place and the way deep calls to deep when we are in the land of our birth. I am a part of this place, and it is a part of me. That is why I am experiencing such discord–for we are not living the way of the cross.
We execute. We bully. We deny entire nations the right to exsist. We throw around our power in ways that are not in service to others.
Those of us who live on this land, but who are not rooted in this national narrative make small attempts to shape our national story. We vote. We donate. We write letters. But we are overrun. By corporations. By leaders who are fearful of losing their power. By complexities.
And so I pray.
I pray because I am a part of this sorrow. As a citizen. As a voter. As a person of this earth. And though I know not who I am praying to – God. Justice. The Universe – I am compelled to move like this: To kneel. To pass beads through my fingers. To hold the cross.
With metaphor, in heartache, out of desperate desire I utter the only words I know:
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.