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Thoughts and Prayers

Thoughts and prayers.

Thoughts and prayers has turned into the tweetable, facebookable, soundbiteable minimal response to a moment of crisis or the unending wave of tragedy upon tragedy. So often have we read or said or typed thoughts and prayers, that it now becomes untweetable, unfacebookable, unsayable, unstomachable.

But, thoughts and prayers is not categorically detestable. When a catastrophe or a personal loss seems too big, or simply beyond our capacity to actually do anything about, in our desire to express human sympathy and solidarity, we may genuinely not know what to do, and in that moment utter, thoughts and prayers. So, thoughts and prayers can come from a deep place of helplessness, and worry, and regard for the person or people to whom thoughts and prayers are addresses. It can be an admission of our desire to love, and the limits of our powers.

But, we are faced with the genuine dilemma that there are in fact some things that we, collectively, actually could do something about. But we don’t. Here’s where thoughts and prayers goes stale. Here’s where thoughts and prayers spoils. Here’s where thoughts and prayers rots. Here’s where thoughts and prayers goes rancid.

When we could do something, but we don’t, and then we mumble the syllables or fumble at the keyboard to type thoughts and prayers, this is when thoughts and prayers are toxic. This is not a new problem.

Christians have known about this for a long time: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:15-17). It’s no good.

The Jewish Prophets, including Amos, knew this long before any Christian walked the earth: “Even though you bring me your burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them…I will not look upon them. Take away from me your noisy songs… I will not listen to them. Rather let justice surge like waters, and righteousness like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5: 22-24).

Are thoughts and prayers, and words of peace, and rituals and songs worthless without action to benefit those who have been harmed?

Are thoughts and prayers, and words of peace, and rituals and songs offensive when inaction supports systems that ensure more victims will be created?

I think thoughts and prayers, and words of peace, and rituals and songs can actually be dangerous when we could do something but we don’t because muttering thoughts and prayers calms our guilt and make us feel like we’ve done all we can.

We haven’t. So, the next time you feel the need to say thoughts and prayers, consider doing something instead. What do you say? Or better: What do you do?

 

Paul Joseph Greene

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