This last Sunday I offered the Prayers of the People during the Annual Service of Celebration for the Centre for Christian Studies (CCS). This service marks the graduation of Diaconal Ministers and also honours a new Companion of the Centre each year. This service is also significant for me as I, myself, graduated from the programme in 2009. Needless to say, I felt honoured and a little anxious.
The Prayers of the People are part of the worship experience that brings forth the concerns and worries, hopes and celebrations that are present in a faith community and beyond. Sometimes they are understood as an intercession with the Holy in which prayers are presented with the hope of intervention. For some, the prayers are less about an expectation of action and more about being able to name–in community–that which might otherwise be silenced. Regardless of the approach, whether a mingling of the intention, I have always understood this worship act as one of the ways that Creator is channelled.
Channelling is an interesting word – for me, it is about energy. We are beings of energy and connected to one another and creation through ripples and waves that bind us together. Not just as individuals, but as one ecosystem. Rocks, trees, air, bugs, me, you, I believe are part of an energy field, to borrow another metaphor. The prayers, therefore, help focus in that moment of worship focal points that serve to make clear our interconnexion.
So, for this last Sunday, what were the focal points that seemed to be speaking to me? Places of injustice and violence, environmental concerns, and world events can be these touchstones. And, often, they are. As the video from The Brilliance demonstrates below, you can hear geo-political concerns being named that though dated serve to illustrate how such prayers touch upon shared experiences.
What I have seen in the last week, which seem to speak to shared experiences, have been about children. The torment and tragedy recently has been heart wrenching. From the accident that involved the Humboldt Broncos, the Indian bus crash that claimed too many children, or the Syrian gas attack that once again harmed, maimed, and claimed innocent children, the presence of shadows deep has been soul straining.
Children dying – it is an ancient horror that continues. When named in moments when communities gather, care can be offered, though not always solution. In the Abrahamic tradition, how we treat children and women is often the plumb line of gauging our right relation with Creator. This constant reminder is never easy. It is not easy because prayer can name the difficulties children and women experience owing to our collective choices. Prayer, therefore, is one way we begin to recognise we can make different choices because it reveals what was previously silenced.
Yet in the weight of these prayers, this last Sunday, I was aware that in that sanctuary we were also celebrating. And this is just one of the paradoxes of faith. This paradox, from a Christian vantage, is the Good News. In the midst of death and pain, there is the possibility for newness. It does not mean that we get to go back. It will never be the same. But this is the paradox–what we choose to do together helps us take steps into the new day.
Whether it is the millions of dollars raised to support the families in Humboldt, or the endeavours of the international community to address war crimes, we who are left behind have choices to make. This last Sunday, I offered these prayers in a place of celebration. In that community’s gathering, four Sisters were recognised as Diaconal Ministers.
In a world in which shadows gather and swirl, these four Sisters have answered a Call, completed their educational journey, and are now entering ministry as those who witness, offer presence, and walk in solidarity. As light-bearers, they model that naming joy and challenge through prayer is important and then responding is one significant way to offer care, compassion, and, sometimes, healing.