Friday, February 28, 2014

Remembering Trayvon Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012)

by Diane D’Souza, Director of Lifelong Learning at EDS and The Mission Institute
A few weeks ago, in a town outside of Boston, a father opened his heart to people who thought they knew him. This father holds an important job, and you might find his wife teaching in a classroom at Harvard when she’s not in a hospital or conducting research at Tufts. They’re not expressly political, and the town they live in is a stable, wealthy, largely white one. In a church basement on a Sunday in December, this father described the moment he looked up at the TV and saw his son looking back at him in the face of Trayvon Martin. This father has two sons; one is nearing college age. As he watched the news that night nearly two years ago his mind kept flipping: Trayvon’s face, and that of his own boys, their hoodies pulled up as they came home from school.
In a room where you could hear a pin drop, the father told his white church friends something they had never heard, and something every black family has experienced or can identify with. He talked about what it’s like being a parent of a child whose skin happens to be black. He talked about the conversation he and his wife had with the boys about the police. Remember, they told them, if a police officer stops you, you could die in that moment. Move slowly; be respectful. I thought of the lessons I learned about hiking in the woods: if you hear a rattle, stop, don’t move, slowly back away. If the snake bites you make a tourniquet, make an incision at the bite marks, suck out the poison. Be prepared: this is a life threatening moment. The point is not to frighten but to prepare, to learn, to survive. For many of our black children life threatening moments are a daily occurrence---even when you’re walking home with a bag of skittles from a 7-11 grocery store.
This father spoke about the conversation he and his wife had with their eldest son about college. I’ve had that experience. It’s not always easy. It’s a bit of a tense time for our sons and daughters. Yet I’ve never had to tell my children, I’m sorry but you can’t go to a school in a state with a Stand Your Ground law. That’s non-negotiable. I love you too much, and the risk is too high. When he finished sharing and our adult forum was over, the minister of the church and other friends went up to this father to learn more about the world he and his family occupy right in their midst. They learned how well-meaning teachers and aides often stop the boys in school hallways at the end of the day, telling them to hurry so they don’t miss the METCO bus. That’s the transport run by the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities which brings economically disadvantaged urban kids of color to this largely white suburban town.
We have a long way to go to move beyond our assumptions about each other. We have a long way to go drop the stereotypes which cripple and shame us. We have a long way to go to name the privilege that allows parents like me to take my children’s safety for granted---even if it is an illusion. We have a long way to go to create the beloved community that was part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. There is much unfinished work.
I am grateful to live in a world where the Dream Defenders, the “sons and daughters of slaves and farm-workers… a generation of world changers, writers, readers, rebels, marchers, dreamers, leaders, thinkers, organizers, activists and revolutionaries” remind us that we are all complicit in the death of Trayvon Martin. These young leaders remind us that real change begins right here and now: by finding the humanity in each other; by questioning our truths; by having real conversations with ourselves, with friends, with strangers; by channeling our anger, our confusion, our angst into a burning passion for positive action. We need the energy and vision of the young, the wisdom and experience of the old, the perspectives of those different from ourselves, and the gift and hard work of shedding our assumptions. Only then, through a re-energized commitment to bettering ourselves and the societies we create, do we truly honor the life of Trayvon Martin.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why Words Matter: "Nothing can ever be either/or"

Lyn G. Brakeman (pictured above left), an Episcopal priest in Boston who attended Why Words Matter, a workshop sponsored by both Lifelong Learning@EDS and the Massachusetts Council of Churches, writes about her experience on her blog Spiritual Lemons:

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Burns, a presbyter of the Church of England who teaches worship at EDS, cited two dynamics at work in this renewed conversation. “It’s a different conversation from former conversations.” 
CONTEXT. Expansive language means that our language system is ever expanding, an emergent design, you might say. It advocates that we must be aware of the worship context of liturgical space,  styles of worship, and practices. In other words, just changing language without awareness of the culture of a worshiping community could be too superficial and a naive strategy at best, a manipulation at worst.  
JUSTICE.  Consider the “other” when we use language to dismantle oppression. For example. how do we speak about our hierarchies? Erasing patriarchal language ought not to erase the history in which we are embedded. Burns said he eliminated all exclusive language, like addressing God as Father in his personal prayer life. “But then I had a son, and I was a father.”  Nothing can ever be either/or, I guess. 

Read more at Lyn's blog.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Interfaith Worship at Episcopal Divinity School

by Kwok Pui-lan

How can we form religious leaders to become global citizens, who can help religious communities understand people of other faiths and work across differences for the common good?

Supported by a grant from the Luce Foundation, the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) was able to offer courses on world religions and Islam, organize a China study seminar, visit a Hindu Vedanta Society and other interfaith worship spaces in Boston, as well as sponsor seminars and luncheon talks by Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim leaders.

In this academic year, our hope is to take a further step by organizing interfaith worship services on campus. Since this is something new and may present challenges to some people, we invited Professor Christopher Duraisingh to discuss the nature and meaning of interfaith worship.

Citing Romans 11:33-36, Duraisingh pointed out that the riches and knowledge of God is beyond our understanding. God is the creator of all things and “who has known the mind of the Lord?” Paul in Ephesians also speaks about the mystery and the diversity in God’s wisdom (3:9-10).

In the 1950s, J. B. Phillips published the book Your God Is Too Small. The author argues that in a world where our experience of life has grown so complex and our mental horizon has been expanded by scientific discoveries and world events, our ideas about God have largely remained static. Duraisingh cautioned that we have made God too small, if we assume that only our tradition, church, or way of worship has access to God.

Christopher Duraisingh,
Otis Charles Visiting Professor
in Applied Theology 
Worship is different from prayer, Duraisingh explained. Worship in most traditions is centered on a shared story—metanarrative—and often involves some kind of celebration. He distinguished several types of interfaith worship. The first is Christian worship enriched by other religious traditions. The worship service is basically Christian in nature, while borrowing from or adapting prayers, readings, and rituals from other traditions. The question is what is the appropriate way of borrowing from others to avoid the danger of misappropriation.

The second is when Christians attend worship or ritual of other religious traditions as participant observers. For example, some Christians have taken part in Jewish Sabbath rituals and Passover meals and others have attended Hindu wedding ceremony and Buddhist meditation and rituals. Before taking part in these rituals, Christians need to be informed about the meaning of the ritual or ceremony so that they can be prepared.

The third is a jointly planned service, when people of different faiths collaborate and create something new. This often occurs when the community is facing common crisis, such as natural disaster or tragedy. After the Boston Marathon bombing, leaders of different religious faiths offered prayers and readings at the memorial service. In India, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims plan rituals together for festivals and special occasions. In these joint services, caution must be taken to respect and honor the integrity and specificities of different traditions, otherwise it will become a smorgasbord of unrelated elements.

Can we really understand the essence and meaning of other people’s worship practices? Duraisingh differentiated between surface meaning and deep meaning of worship. While people may learn the surface meaning of a worship service, it is often the case that only participants of a certain tradition can grasp the deep meaning of it. A person who does not believe in Jesus Christ, for example, would find it difficult to comprehend the words of the sacrament: “This is my body, broken for you.”

Duraisingh challenged us to expand our horizon and imagine a fourth type of interfaith worship, when people of different faiths have built a long relationship, such that they can begin to see the metanarrative of their own tradition differently and anew. New worshipping experience arises when the metanarrative is reimagined and new expressions are built around it. In this way, we are not just borrowing elements from other traditions superficially, but enter into dialogues about the deeper meaning of worship.

In our globalized world, we need to reclaim the ideals of catholicity—universal and inclusive. Our god can’t be too small and our church can’t be parochial.

Kwok Pui-lan is William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School.  She is the coeditor of Anglican Woman on Church and Mission (Church Publishing).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Pilgrimage to the Holy Land: Reflections on the 2013 Jonathan Daniels and All Martyrs Pilgrimage

Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage 2013
The 2013 Jonathan Daniels and All Martyrs Pilgrimage in Hayneville, Alabama (from the EDS Flickr page)

by Diane D'Souza, PhD, Director of Lifelong Learning @ EDS

There is something about walking and traveling together which touches my soul. I’m not talking about getting on a bus or airplane and moving from point A to point B. I mean the act of journeying together: having a purpose or mission; a time to listen, talk, and reflect with others; and an opportunity to share the unanticipated bends and twists of the journey. People have known this for centuries: whether it is Hindus coming to bathe in the sacred river for the Kumbh Mela, Muslims uniting for the Hajj on the plains of Arafat in Mecca, or the Ngarrindjeri and other indigenous peoples dancing the spirit back into the Murray Darling River in the South Australian Ringbalin. Christians, too, have a history of sacred traveling: to sites important in Jesus’ life, and to places associated with saints inspired by him.

Last week I joined a small Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) delegation for the annual Jonathan Daniels and All Martyrs Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. That’s how Bishop Rob Wright of the Diocese of Atlanta, and fellow pilgrim, refers to the American South. The pilgrimage, which wound its way from Atlanta to Alabama, traced a portion of our nation’s civil rights history, and honored Alabama martyrs of that movement, including Jonathan Daniels, a man whose name I didn’t even know before I started working at EDS.

Jon Daniels was a former EDS (then, Episcopal Theological Seminary) student who, like his Cambridge peers, was stunned by the 1965 death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and the subsequent Bloody Sunday clash. Together with many of his fellow seminarians, he answered the call of Martin Luther King Jr. and traveled to Alabama to join the civil rights response. When his classmates returned to Cambridge, Jon along with Judith Upham convinced school authorities to let them spend the rest of the semester in and around Selma, helping to register African American voters, and to assist with the struggle to desegregate churches and businesses.

Despite some threats, and against the caution of his mother and others, Jon made the decision to continue to stay in Selma for the summer. He found the work meaningful and important, and felt at home in the family of Alice and Lonzy West, activists in the voter registration movement. Their generous hospitality, which they extended at some risk to their family, was an important source of strength. When Jon voiced his frustration and shame that the local church would not welcome the black youngsters who went with him to attend weekly worship, he was comforted and encouraged by who had long experience with this type of oppression. Jon’s strong, intimate relationships with African Americans in Selma like the Wests fueled his resolve to continue working for equality among all our nation’s citizens.

But, in a turn all too familiar in stories of the Civil Rights Era, Jon’s work for peace and justice was met with violence and hate. On August 20, 1965, Jonathan Daniels was shot and killed by Tom Coleman, a highway department engineer and unpaid special deputy. Coleman also shot and severely wounded Richard Morrisroe, then a Catholic priest. The details of the story are dramatic and tragic but, as EDS student and fellow pilgrim Angie Hall pointed out while we traveled together, they were not so unusual for blacks in the South, who had been terrorized and killed with impunity for decades. Author and historian Charles Eagles aptly notes that Coleman used his shotgun to radically defend the local way of life against “outside agitators.”

I witnessed and learned many things as a pilgrim. I climbed the stairs of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and was startled by my grief at seeing a photograph of a young, vibrant Martin Luther King Jr. Hearing his voice ring out over the pews where he preached for so long, I could only feel the profound loss we have endured in our struggle for Civil Rights. At the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries, I was dumbfounded how racism could have blinded people to the stunning works of African American artists, and grateful to Hale Woodruff and Atlanta University for having the courage and foresight in 1942 to offer annual exhibition opportunities to artists of color whose ability to show their art was limited by segregation.
Time slowed down for me in Hayneville, Alabama, where Jonathan died and the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and its partners hold this annual memorial pilgrimage to mark the deaths of all Alabama civil rights martyrs. The pilgrimage around the town proceeds in a “stations of the cross” style. It starts in the town square; moves to the jail where Jonathan, Stokely Carmicheal, and two dozen other young civil rights workers were imprisoned; then pushes on to the storefront where Jonathan was killed; and finally to the courthouse where Tom Coleman was acquitted of Jonathan’s murder. It is a powerful circuit to make with three hundred people of all colors and ages. I have no words to convey the moments when a young man sang the negro spiritual, “Soon I Will Be Done with the Troubles of the World” while many of the pilgrims came forward to touch or kiss the stair on which Jonathan died. Nor to describe one of the most moving moments of this well constructed liturgy, when volunteers brought to the front of a packed courtroom placards bearing the faces and names of each of the fourteen Alabama civil rights martyrs being honored. The calling of each individual name and the volunteer’s response, “Present!” which preceded the telling of each story, was a moving testament to loss, courage, and the bloody history of our continuing journey to dismantle racism. Seeing Bishops Rob Wright and Santosh Marray, both men of color, celebrating the Eucharist on the very courtroom bench where justice was so ill-served forty-eight years ago, brought perspective, and buoyed my hope.

I know I will write more about the pilgrimage, for there is much which is still settling in my soul. Meanwhile, I am energized by the thought of the 2014 event (Aug. 6-10) which we have started planning in collaboration with other dioceses and partners around the country, and the fiftieth anniversary celebration in 2015 which Jonathan’s classmates, the EDS alumni/ae of 1965, ’66, and ’67, are already calling a long-awaited reunion.

If you are interested in participating in or helping to organize the EDS delegation to the 2014 Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage, please contact Diane D'Souza at or call 617-682-1505.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Profiles in Fear: Some Running Thoughts during Marathon Week in Boston

By Dr. Angela Bauer-Levesque


On a bus to New York City on the second day after the Boston Marathon bombings, for an appointment at Trinity Church Wall Street, near what has become known as Ground Zero, I listened to my body. I realized that I couldn’t shake the comparisons between Boston 4/15 and 9/11 despite the tremendous difference in scope.

Boston at Night, photo by Jenna Ethier
I am conscious of the communal and common anxieties, the eerie feelings, the heightened alertness, the furtive glances, the numbness paired with a vulnerability that has strangers converse with each other. Security checks, heavily armed guards at T stations, ATF personnel with assault weapons at hospitals, and other strategies keep people guessing while projecting an illusion of safety. The unknown feeds fear instead of curiosity; fear that reaches into the unexamined places within.

It was a gorgeous spring day in New York City (as I heard it had been in Boston as well), blue skies, blooming trees, lots of people enjoying their lunch outside, hustle and bustle everywhere. Walking by the huge construction site, which Ground Zero has been for many years now—with the so-called Freedom Tower still missing its top and the lines for getting into the 9/11 Memorial winding around the block—I am annoyed by all the tourists, and even more so by the young men and women still hawking overexposed photos of the former Twin Towers, and postcards of their firebombing and eventual collapse. How long will this insane practice continue? When will the memorial allow for quiet and reflective visits, time to mourn and time to remember? 9/11 has become a complicated symbol for all kinds of uses and abuses. I wonder what fears are covered up by such commodification.

The New York Stock Exchange is blocked off by police vehicles, and any car coming close is inspected both inside and underneath with a mirror on a long stick—just like back then and like crossing in and out of the former German Democratic Republic. Fear is in the air. While the ID-ing is relatively minimal here by comparison, and even this morning leaving South Station was far less careful than I had expected, the feelings of vulnerability remain. Folks everywhere are talking about danger and about “others” acting suspicious. I pray that at least in New York and Boston we can stay away from hate mongering in general, and Islamophobia in particular. Time will tell, and the solidarity of Christians and white folks is needed. White Christian privilege means that some of us have far less reason to fear than others. We won’t be profiled because of the Marathon bombings; we won’t be harassed because of ethnicity and religion of the 9/11 terrorists.


My one day round trip was emotional and sensual in strange ways of heightened awareness of sounds, sights, and smells. While the feelings make sense to me—they are the same—other comparisons between NYC 9/11/2001 and Boston 4/15/2013 do not. The scope is just so different.

For several weeks after 9/11 streets below 14th Street in New York City were closed off; more than 300,000 people were either evacuated or continued to live amidst smoldering buildings for 50-plus days, and a chemical stench lingered for months. There were thousands of flyers with photos of missing family members and neighbors posted all over. In comparison, Boylston and Newbury between Arlington and Mass Avenue is a small area of 15 blocks, shrunk to 12 blocks within 36 hours, and further since. All marathoners and spectators were accounted for within hours. I understand that the businesses and offices that were shut down feel differently. Traffic jams, not air quality, appear to be the biggest complaint I have heard.

Uncontrolled violence makes fear grow, and perspective and vision shrink. Many, myself included, focus on the nearby and almost lose sight of the wider world. I was reminded by a friend who lives elsewhere in the United States that on Monday, when the two explosions killed three young people (so far) and injured 170 or so others enough to be hospitalized, many more people were killed across the country and around the world; bombs explode daily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria—the list of places where IEDs (improvised explosive devices) go off all the time runs on. I know that comparing numbers gets us nowhere. The obscene olympics of death tolls, of competition for attention, renders some deaths as more important than others, and thus more grievable, as Judith Butler argues so powerfully in Frames of War (2010).  Fear shrinks the world we inhabit. Nevertheless, the dead and the injured and their families need compassion and support of the community in grieving and beyond.


On Friday, confined to our homes in Cambridge, Watertown, and Boston for most of the day, asked by the Governor to “shelter-in-place,” a new euphemism for lock-down, we watched TV on and off. Living in Inman Square in Cambridge, my partner and I could hear parts of the operation at the suspects' family home a few streets over. Fear had moved outside. Colleagues, friends, and family emailed, called, or sent messages on Facebook to express their worries about our well-being.

I learned that the events overnight toward and in Watertown had scared students on campus, who heard non-stop sirens for quite some time, police and other emergency vehicles, as well as helicopters, fanning fears that they would somehow be confronted with violence. During the night and throughout the day, the repetitive media coverage fed a frenzy of fear. “Controlled explosions” were announced again and again; military helicopters circled overhead; cell phone reception was blocked for hours. As the day wore on, it became increasingly difficult to focus on work or even chores around the house. We let the trauma consume us, even without a feeling of fear. Nervous laughter at the “stupidity” of this or that move may have masked it. Video images of amassing security personnel, local and regional police, FBI, ATF, bomb squad and other military vehicles with mostly men pointing assault rifles, while racing around street corners, were intended to make the 400,000 locked-in people feel safe, even as an official admitted that the numbers were operationally unnecessary. Fear had become a piece of the strategy of apprehending the one 19-year old suspect. Unsettled by security, I began to fear for the fugitive, my fear flirting with empathy.

Fires of fear were further fanned by newscasters, as the ethnicity and religion of the suspects became public. The suspects were racialized as “other,” of color, not white, “not Caucasian,” even though Chechnya, the country of their ancestors, is part of the Caucasus mountains.  Feeding the rising Islamophobia and xenophobia, the images, words, and actions in the Boston area and beyond make me afraid of another wave of hate and harassment toward Arab, South Asian, and Muslim communities, similar to the experiences of the profiling after 9/11—their fear of communal blame and reprisals.

While the shelter-in-place request was still on, after the police activity in the neighborhood had slowed down, I ventured outside, and drove a couple of miles to pick up a friend, who would join us for dinner. The streets were eerily empty; people who were out walking their dogs or tending to the outside of their houses glanced furtively over as I passed. My fear returned. It was clearly not about another explosion or the potential of physical harm. Rather, I was afraid of what the next street corner would reveal, having internalized the general mood. Another beautiful spring day was almost over, and mostly lost, as I realized how much this lock-down cost, monetarily, emotionally, and in terms of diminished life for so many, the grieving and injured families and communities included.


I am relieved that the second suspect was apprehended alive. I am glad that this chapter of the trauma is closed. I know that there will be more traumas revisited, interpretations offered, accusations made, exceptional legal consequences demanded; and fear will not be far from the surface. I see the challenge to work against the inclination to demonize any group of people, be it immigrants, Muslims, or any other scapegoats, all because of our unresolved feelings. The upcoming Kellogg Lectures at Episcopal Divinity School will be one of what I hope will be many opportunities to explore the complexity of powers and people, politics and religions, fueling the events of this week.

Definitely, fear is not all. Of those of us who have learned to cover our feelings, some move to sadness, tears eliciting gestures of comfort; some move to anger accusing scapegoats old and new; some stay with their fear from knotted stomachs to canceled events to perilous fantasies of destruction. Amidst it all, my prayer is for wisdom in world awareness, calmness in community, and courage to continue living our lives fully and publicly. Will you join me? 

Dr. Angela Bauer-Levesque is academic dean and Harvey H. Guthrie Jr. Professor of Bible, Culture, and Interpretation at Episcopal Divinity School. She has served on the faculty since 1994. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Exploring Sex and Violence in the Bible

By Dr. Gale A. Yee

At a recent meeting of the Pacific Asian North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, one of my Old Testament colleagues introduced herself as someone who teaches sex and violence in the Bible at her seminary. 

In some ways, I could say the same. This month my co-edited book, Joshua and Judges, in the Texts@Context Series from Fortress Press, examines two biblical books, Joshua and Judges, that fit the bill precisely. 

In the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, the only Sunday readings from the book of Joshua are stories about the Israelites crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land, bearing the ark of the covenant (Josh 3:7-17), their circumcision and eating of first Passover in the land (Josh 5:9-12), and their renewal of the covenant, now that they are settled in the land (Josh 24:1-3, 14-25). 

Completely passed over are the horrific stories of the genocide of the indigenous Canaanites at God’s command. The only story from the book of Judges in the lectionary is one about the prophet Deborah commanding Barak to take up a military position on Mt. Tabor against the armies of the Canaanites (Judges 4:1-7). Completely ignored are the many stories of the violence against women in the book, which ends with the gang-rape of a woman and her dismemberment and the seizure and rape of 600 more women (Judges 19-21). Both books have terrible legacies. The book of Joshua has been used to legitimate the conquest, colonization, and extermination of many indigenous people across time and around the globe. Violence against women is still an appalling aspect of our societies even in this “enlightened” era.

Acknowledging the specific socio-cultural contexts from which the contributors write, Joshua and Judges, the essay collection that I edited with Athalya Brenner, confronts the issues of sex and violence in these books head on. 

Well-known biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann tackles the hermeneutical dilemma in Joshua that describes God decreeing violence so that Israel can occupy a land already inhabited by other peoples. The violence stems from the uncritical view that Israel’s covenantal chosen-ness that demands the negation of the Other, the Un-chosen. Two Israeli educators, Yonina Dor and Naomi De-Malach, examine the wide range of Jewish attitudes about the book Joshua, those that provided ideological support for Zionism, conquest of the land, and the expulsion of its residents, and those that feared that the book would sanction further violence in Israel.  Daniel Hawk surveys the parallels between the ways in which biblical Israel and American Manifest Destiny construct national identity through stories of conquest.

The essays on Judges particularly focus on the women and gender issues in the book from the social locations of their contributors. My co-editor, Athalya Brenner, argues that women intentionally framed the book of Judges by design. Three contributors examine the tent-peg wielding assassin, Jael (Judges 4-5).  Ora Brison sees in Jael a strong independent woman that offsets her experience of abused and humiliated women in her work in an Israeli women’s shelter. Ryan Bonfiglio interprets Jael and her choice to kill or not to kill Israel’s enemy general, Sisera, from the perspective of the choices his immigrant Italian grandparents faced when they settled in the US. 

I see parallels between Jael and the Chinese woman warrior, Fa Mulan, highlighting the American Orientalism of Disney’s Mulan and its influence on the gender formation of young Asian American females. Royce Victor reads Delilah through the lenses to two significant Indian literary works, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Brad Embry interprets the horrible story of the Levite’s concubine’s rape (Judge 19) from his specific religious context: the Pentecostal-Holiness Assembly of God tradition. Examining the male judge Gideon, Bar Mymon observes that Gideon puts on his masculinity the way he (Bar Mymon) dons his Israeli military uniform and becomes the Man, in a severe process of gender deconstruction and reconstruction.

The people in the pew are most likely unaware of the sex and violence embedded in the books of Joshua and Judges, since their stories are rather censored in the Sunday lectionaries. Nevertheless, I urge congregations to read and study these stories together to see how awfully familiar they are to present-day happenings. My students in my Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures have their eyes wide-opened when they read these narratives. I remember one of my students saying that she now hesitates to teach children the popular song, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,” because it calls to mind the atrocities committed against the indigenous Canaanites described in Joshua. I am hopeful that this volume of collected essays continues the very needed conversation we need to deal with the military and sexual violence endemic to our society.

Dr. Gale A. Yee is Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies at Episcopal Divinity School.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Our Prayer is as Important as Our Action

This blog post is the third in a series of three posts inspired by the most popular post from the archive of 99Brattle, “Do Progressive Christians Pray?” by Chris Glaser, published two years ago. The first installment was by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas ’88 and the second installment was written by Dr. Kwok Pui Lan

By Christi Humphrey '08

The line that stands out for me in the blog post, “Do Progressive Christians Pray?” is the following: "God brings justice and mercy into the world one person at a time."

Hidden within this line is the belief that God’s work was not completed in seven days, but rather, God continues to create in the world today. God works in and through each of us—as co-creators—and our individual transformation ripples out into the world. The foundation for this transformation is our own prayer mixed with God’s grace. 

Prayer comes in many forms. Some prayers are dear to us because of their familiarity, the memories and tradition associated with them. “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name,” or “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

There are prayers offered in a worship service—corporate prayers offered for the Church and those in authority. Prayer for the welfare of the world and for those who suffer, are in any trouble or have died.

There are also spontaneous prayers offered throughout the day, for the need of a loved one or in confession. And there are those moments of silence and meditation when the prayer simple rests in the presence of the Divine, whether it is behind the wheel of a car, in response to a beautiful sunset, or on a meditation stool as part of a daily practice. 

All of these forms of prayer make up a conversation with God—a conversation as unique as we are and the basis for our transformation into the beings God intended us to be.  Through a dialogue with God—if we are open to it—we can learn about ourselves and our place in the world. 

For centuries, people of faith have stopped throughout the day to pray, to commune with God. The way we pray, what we pray for, and how often we pray, says something about how we understand our place in the world and who we believe God to be. 

If we are to be co-creators with God in realizing the dream God had for the world at its creation—a place of unity, mutuality, and beauty—we must know ourselves.  We must understand our gifts, talents, and passions, our shortcomings and our dark places. We must know God—God’s love, grace, strength, comfort, and encouragement. In the same way that we are in relationship with those we love, we must be in relationship with God, through prayer. 

George Herbert says the following in his poem “Prayer”:
“God’s breath in man returning to his birth, The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage. . .reversed thunder. . .A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love and bliss,  . . . Heaven in ordinary man . . . the soul’s blood . . .” 

Do progressive Christians pray?  Yes, because our prayer informs our action. Our prayer is as important as our action.

Christi Humphrey ’08 is the Director of Alumni/ae and Constituent Engagement at Episcopal Divinity School and a certified spiritual director and ministry developer.