Prayers and Protests: How We Cope in Times of Darkness

Photo by Olivia Montalto

"Whether we’re praying with our fists in the air or clasped before a cross, we all use can use our passion to fuel a stronger nation.”

It’s no secret that the political tension in America is as tangible as ever. We are growing further divided with every piece of legislature, every natural disaster, every senseless act of violence. We all hold tight to our values and we find ourselves defending them more and more frequently. We all react. We argue. But can’t we all agree that people dying sucks?

After a recent fit of anger following the tragic Las Vegas shooting, I realized my reaction was one of spiteful ignorance. I felt rage toward those reacting simply with “thoughts and prayers,” as I felt those words becoming more empty with every post. It felt like an apathetic and lazy reaction. Every heart emoji and tweet and conversation that ended with “All we can do is pray,” led me deeper into my frustration. I felt so distant from the people I loved; I didn’t feel like anyone genuinely cared. To be honest, I’m still convinced half of them didn’t; it seemed posting #PrayersforVegas was a way to feel a sense of self-validation or just to let everyone know that yes, you, too heard about what happened. I was sitting in bed at 2 am, drafting faxes to my state representatives, texting my family in panic, reading article after article. I was gathering the facts and forming a consensus. But they were praying. Or saying they were. I was mad.

I grew up religious so I guess I understand it to an extent, it’s not like I just push back against it out of rebellion or angst. I get it. But I sometimes feel a sense of anger when people are ‘praying’ yet terrible things still happen. I lost my religion when my dad became sick, just as I entered high school. I prayed for him endlessly: I begged whatever God was out there, “Please, please don’t take him,” and he still left. That’s when I moved onto the belief that everything happens for a reason. But I believe the universe is bigger than me and I can’t just beg for things. I have to work for them.

So when things that suck happen, I don’t pray. I do something about it. And that’s where my aggressive tendency comes from in times like these: I know this won’t be solved by asking God to fix it.

But a conversation with one of my closest friends led me to step back. I needed understand where this was coming from. And this conversation came from her calling me out on my ignorance. A tweet of mine read: “Pray all you want, I’ll take action,” which, admittedly, may have been a bit brash. And when she told me how she felt about it, I immediately felt like an asshole. Of course I won’t be praying, but does that discount the fact that others would be?

Being friends with people so different from yourself seems like a bad idea, but truthfully it’s just more of an opportunity to learn. Disagreements are the first step to better understanding an opposing view. Together we came to the idea that we all share the same end goal: peace. We all react differently in times of darkness, leading us to feel a division. Really, though, we can all be united by the fact that we are all hoping for change. We all hate what what has happened; we’re all angry. Emma, 20, put it simply: “This kind of tragedy does require action. But to Christians, prayer is the most powerful weapon we have.” It’s so easy to discount people’s values when they don’t seem to align at all with your own.

We tend to inflate our egos when it comes to morals or religion; Pope Francis once spoke about how our egocentrism will lead to the demise of social bonds. Reverend William Alberts, a contributing writer for CounterPunch, explains that religion is inherently divisive as it stands according to Christians. In his piece, ‘Religion: A Source of Solidarity or Division?’ he discusses this idea that religions tend to separate like oil and water between believers versus non-believers. The salvation of these Christians depends, more often than not, on the damnation of non-believers. And like Pope Francis, he’s right. This sense of division is what will ultimately drive humanity to a total dichotomy. We can’t just pray, and we can’t just be angry.

Whether we react with prayer, anger or action, the only way to get where we want to be is to stand together. We must cease frustration at the varied reactions and grow to understand the power of coexistence. Violence breaks us all; it affects us all. And it has to end. But when we react to violence with division and opposing views, we do nothing but widen the crevice between us. Just because we all search for peace in different corners doesn’t mean we aren’t seeking the same ideals. We’re all committed to the common good, and we all ‘pray’ for change.

My consensus is this: Whether we’re praying with our fists in the air or clasped before a cross, we all use can use our passion to fuel a stronger nation. Solidarity is the unity or agreement of feeling or action. So when we all join hands, we’ll reap in the power of change. We’ll sit at the same table and be empowered in the presence of inclusion. When we stand in solidarity, we stand in power.

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