devozine

Spiritual Practice

PRAYING IN RESPONSE TO TERROR

Lynne and Steve Taylor

Kia ora (hello) from Aotearoa New Zealand, a tiny country famous for beautiful scenery and being home to hobbits!

Sadly, New Zealand was in the news last year when on March 15 a gunman opened fire in two Christchurch mosques, killing 51 people, wounding 49 more, and traumatizing (and re-traumatizing) countless others. This tragedy was unthinkable to us—quite unimaginable in a country with little experience of gun violence.

Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was applauded internationally for her empathy and compassion. But beyond the media spotlight, in the quiet of gathered worship, how were Christians and churches responding to the recent terror attacks in Christchurch, Paris, and Manchester? We asked 300 church leaders that question.

Their answers offer us helpful ways to respond:

 > SPEAK: In the sudden shock of violence, with events rapidly unfolding, we are tempted to say nothing. Yet less than 48 hours after the Christchurch mosque shootings, each of the churches we contacted had adapted sermons, prayers, or responses to speak into the reality of this tragedy.

 > EXPRESS: When finding your own words is hard, borrow from others. The Church’s ancient prayer book (Psalms) gives us words to offer thanks and praise but also to express anger, grief, and despair. Psalm 10 was a popular choice for churches after the shootings.

When words fail, actions and symbols can be helpful. Some churches lit candles; others placed in their worship space native grasses, one for each person who died, as a symbol of loss.

 > ENGAGE: People took time to express compassion and to make personal connections with local Muslim people and communities. They wrote letters and cards, set up a commemoration book, and wrote on symbols of peace. Some took flowers to their Muslim neighbors; others provided food.

> REMAIN: The impact of violence is both immediate and long-term. Christians are called to be present at every stage, especially in an age of social media when information and misinformation spreads quickly. In the immediate, don’t rush to blame. In the long-term, don’t forget. At all times, speak truth, peace, and love with courage.

> RETURN: One month after the November 2015 bombings in Paris had postponed their tour, rock band U2 rescheduled their concert as a time of remembrance. Calling for silence, they projected on video screens the name of each person who had died. They quoted from scripture, inviting people to respond to violence not with more hate, but with God’s love. Drawing on 1 John 4:18, they prayed: “We choose love over fear. . . . Perfect love drives out fear.”

After the May 2017 bombings in Manchester, Ariana Grande invited people to respond to violence not with hate, but by coming together for a One Love Manchester benefit concert. Invited guest Katy Perry echoed U2’s message as she reminded the crowd that “love conquers fear, and love conquers hate.”

 

DIG DEEPER

 Writing a Psalm: Many psalms express anger, grief, and uncertainty. Read Psalm 10, the psalm most used by churches after the Christchurch mosque shootings. Spend some time reflecting on a recent outbreak of violence by answering these questions:

  • Description: What has this violence done to human beings?
  • Trust: What might trust in God look like in this particular situation?
  • Petition: What specific thing could God do?

Now try writing your own psalm. Feel free to be as honest as the psalmist. Remember, telling God how you feel is OK. God cares about you.

Willing to share your psalm with devozine? Please send it to smiller@upperroom.org.

Lynne and Steve Taylor — Lynne teaches theology at the University of Otago and co-leads Student Soul (church for students). Steve is Principal of KCML, training leaders for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

—from devozine (January/February 2020). Copyright © 2019 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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