The congregations I serve worship in a liturgical tradition. We follow a circular calendar of the Church year which begins on the first Sunday of December with the season of advent and ends, 52 weeks later, with the celebration of Christ the King Sunday. This pattern is designed to help us journey through the year by telling and re-telling the story of our faith. There are seasons of preparation, Advent and Lent, which help us to come closer to the great feasts of Christmas and Easter, which are observed with seasons of their own.
We are in the midst of the season after Pentecost. It is the longest season of the Church year and is a time when we learn more about Jesus’ walk with his followers and friends. The Church sometimes calls this season Ordinary Time, though, the stories we share for these 33 weeks are anything but ordinary.
Are the times in which we now live ordinary? We have recently observed the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I remember that summer. My twin and I were 6 years old and we were thrilled by the extraordinary images that came into our home via a black and white television set. I also now realize that, over time, the adventures of our space program began to seem more ordinary and fell from the forefront of our collective consciousness and, from the headlines.
Last weekend, the headlines and the 24-hour news cycle were filled with the reports of two mass shootings which have left more than 30 people dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. According to the Los Angeles Times, the definition of mass shooting fluctuates so putting the nightmare of these events into numbers is difficult. The horror of them makes putting it all into words extremely difficult. Gun violence, when realized in such numbers and in the places we call ordinary like shopping centers, schools, concerts, and festivals, breaks our hearts and stymies our imaginations. The truth is, these events seem almost to have become ordinary. In some of our communities, the horror of gun violence is exactly that, with individual tragedies happening every single day.
When tragedy strikes a community, whether of natural or human origin, it is an almost automatic response to send our thoughts and prayers. Traditional media outlets and social media have given a lot of attention to this with some even dismissing thoughts and prayers as useless responses to pain and suffering. I disagree. Our thoughts and our prayers, I would argue, are exactly the right place to start when tragedy strikes.
The traditions I serve, like most communities of faith, value, teach and practice the importance of faith in action. In James 2:15-16 we read: If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? (New Revised Standard Version).
Our thoughts and prayers in daily life and in the face of tragedy are meant to be our point of focus and our inspiration to do the will of God. These actions are not meant to be a one-and-done practice, but a vital means through which we form our actions. By setting our thoughts and prayers on the needs of those around us who are suffering, we begin the process of taking action in the light of our faith.
I do not presume to know all the answers to the violence that plagues our society. I do know that we must form our actions through careful thought and fervent prayer and that we must not presume to let our prayers become an end in themselves. I believe that we must stand up from our prayers and get to work.
May our prayers rise, with the prayers of many, as we look to God, in the example of Jesus Christ, to guide us in the active expression of our faith.