In the online prayer room of the 224th General Assembly, there is a “prayer wall” – what some might liken to a virtual Wailing Wall – where prayers are written, folded and tucked into imaginary stones. What is written on the hearts of these authors is being transcribed into words for others to read, to hear and to pray together.
Lament is expressed for what is lost and what is being revealed. There are deep-down cries of repentance for failure to walk humbly with God and with those of a different tribe, whether that tribe is one of color, sexual orientation, differing abilities or distant places. There is lament for unknowingly, or knowingly, being a part of systematic and institutional evil, a construct of current society.
A plea for transformation is central to these prayers. A small group from the GA Bible study addressed the anatomy of lament in their prayer: “Re-form us, O God … move inside of us. Change us, from the inside out, through your Word and Spirit. … Help us not to seek to fix other people, but to look into ourselves, as we are part of the problem.”
Prayers uttered for change, forgiveness and for hearts to be broken open so that what might be heard, finally, are the cries of the forsaken and the abused, the marginalized and the invisible amongst us.
Healing prayers offered for those who are suffering illness, and those who have lost loved ones. Prayers sought for those on the frontlines of the battle against the pandemic, including hospital chaplains. Prayers requested for seminarians who are struggling with an academic transition that may result in their inability to be ordained with the PC(USA). Prayers posted for those who are without, due to international sanctions in countries like Syria.
Accompanying these prayers are photos of cairns, an ancient secular and sacred practice of piling one stone upon another, as they are markers of significant moments anddesired change, In some way, cairns provide reminders of stones that have been carried that need to be laid down, and the ways that hard-heartedness reveals itself around the globe.
A Bible study small group composed this lament that includes this poetic line: “I lament the inward curve of our soul that it becomes a story of me instead of a story of we.”
Within all these prayers is a longing for redemption. As Warren Van Genderen, ruling elder commissioner from the Presbytery of Wyoming, prays, “Only in you [God] can we find Hope.”
Another Bible study small group mourns the ways the earth is being destroyed and prays in hope: “We must honor the natural world: never waste water, learn to say thank you to the trees and the soil. Honor the natural resources. … All of creation groans.”
If the prayer wall had a visual reflection, it would be of General Assembly on its knees, kneeling before the One who is the hope of every generation, desiring that all voices are heard, none silenced or dismissed, and justice accomplished.
Sarah Hegar, a minister from East Iowa Presbytery, shares a photo of a cairn she made after the climb to the monastery in Petra, Jordan. She writes, “It reminds me that although climbs are challenging, they are always worth it and promote physical, emotional and spiritual growth.”
Just as cairns memorialize moments, prayers, and change, Michael Moore shared a prayer titled “Juneenth”:
We pray, O Lord, for change. Make emancipation a reality for thy people of color. In the midst of COVID 19 and the uprising of people of color around the nation around the suffering of families grieving the loss of loved ones through the senseless killings, O Lord grant to us awakening mercy, awareness, and consciousness our deep brokenness. We ask dear Lord to remind us that we are our brother’s keeper. Help us repent, make a confession, and change our ways through healing demonstrating compassion and making justice through taking the right actions.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Each of these prayers reminds all those who attend and who will tune into General Assembly that there is nowhere else to go, but to the One who has the words of eternal life and is the Word of Eternal Life. May we all join Rebecca Blair in her prayer:
“Gracious One, grant us
Peace that silences violence
Love that speaks to discord
Courage that dissipates fear
Wisdom that illuminates ignorance.
So that we may be rooted deeply in your abiding care
Whose startling gift to us is life itself.”
Sherry Blackman, a journalist, poet and author, serves as the pastor of The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, as well as a truck stop chaplain at the Travel Center of America in Columbia, New Jersey, a validated ministry of Newton Presbytery.
A guided meditation offered in the GA224 prayer room.