Praying Down the Tornado


Praying Down the Tornado

I used to be a “prayer warrior.”  One youth group leader in High School cried after I prayed one evening.  “I wish I could pray like you,” she sobbed.  I sure knew how to talk to the Lord and, alongside a small group of other students, we were sure we could “move the hand of God.”  We prayed in churches (Evangelical, Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Campus Crusade, House Churches and more); we prayed at school, we prayed on the beach, prayed at home, prayed while we drove, prayed while we read our bibles and brushed our teeth.  We “prayed in the Spirit,” “prayed in tongues,” sang and sat in circles of intercession and confession and praise and supplication.  We did it all.  And God spoke with us all the time.  Oh yes He did!

Those prayer-saturated days are over now.  I gave up prayer a number of years ago.  It wasn’t that prayer didn’t “work,” because it did!  Prayer always re-assured me that I had a Friend, a Protector, that was bigger and stronger than any force in the universe.  Prayer was my security blanket, my shield, my storm shelter. . . until it didn’t work.

I gave up praying when I woke up to realize it was really “all about Me.”  The conversation was all one-sided.  Now wait.  I always prayed for others.  I constantly asked the Creator of the Universe to “help” and to “be present with” and to “protect” and to “guide” just about everyone I met.  Even during the years I was an Interfaith Chaplain with people excluded from most communities and congregations (poor and mentally ill folk, prisoners and people of the street) I was continually asked to “pray for” someone, something, somewhere.  I learned it was better to use less words, to breathe and to sit with people. That was “prayer enough.”  But I had to be honest:  prayer was really for me.  Not for others, not for God.  Prayer was once all about Me-and-God, then prayer was all about what Others needed.  A noble progression, maybe.  But finally I had to be honest:  prayer, in whatever form, was about me.

Have you noticed that just about every time you hear someone talking about “talking with God” it’s pretty much all about them, about the pray-er?  The Almighty Lord of All is listening to them and every little detail of their lives is of special concern to the Lord (Allah, Krishna, Buddha, Father, Goddess, any Lord will do).  Except, isn’t it odd that they have to keep asking for help with ceaseless worshipping or praising or thanking?  Prayer seems to be a perpetually spiraling twister that can cut lives and communities apart.  Doesn’t anyone find it strange that someone has to ask for help or protection or healing from a Big Someone whose resume presumably includes a line about “loving, caring, all-present, all-powerful savior”?  We once believed our prayerful devotions could “move the hands of God” but why did those heavenly hands wait for US to ask?  (I know, some say it’s a test, or a lesson or about trust and letting go. . .I know, that just makes no sense to me anymore, especially when we’re talking about disease, death, destruction or disaster).

From what we hear, the people of Oklahoma (maybe a majority of inhabitants of the U.S. Southern states) are prayer warriors.  Now, I mean no disrespect for how suffering people handle their suffering.  But from what I’ve heard, the people of OK sure know how to pray.  They know how to speak to God and “He listens.”  They pray for rain and it rains.  They pray for protection and they’re protected.  Oh, sorry, am I’m missing something?  I heard some say, “God protected me and mine; we prayed so hard and we were saved,” while just across what used to be a street, others say, “God took my child and my house; the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.”  Other, more liberal praying folk say things like “Storms are natural; we pray that people are safe.”  The most liberal (I was one of these) can say, “Prayer is to stand with the people; to pray is to re-build.”  I understand.  I just don’t see the point anymore.  If prayer is a “relationship” with the Great One Who Gives a Damn (and a Blessing), then it seems, I mean it really appears, that–and I’m sorry to say it–there seems to be only one person relating with themselves.  I mean, “prayer works” for some sometimes but not always and “prayer doesn’t work” for others so it’s re-shaped into “Well, God’s ways are mysterious and His purposes are. . . we don’t know; but we love Him anyway because He loves us, even when we pray He protects children and a bunch of them die huddled in a school.” This makes me think of some teachers in that public school in Moore who said they had kids singing “Jesus loves me” while their world was crashing down on them.  Some didn’t make it.  Didn’t Jesus love them?

I propose a simple (but risky) way to prove once and for all, that prayer really works.  I suggest an ultimate test of prayer–not just praying, or one style of praying, but a test of Prayer itself.  This isn’t really meant to prove one way or another that a God exists.  It’s about a kind of spiritual Consumer Report on a product sold as safe and effective.  Let’s, once and for all, show that prayer is as real and effective as billions on our planet say it is.

Here’s what I’d like to see. It would truly be an amazing event.  We gather all the Warriors of Prayer, all the television evangelists, all the new breed of preacher politicians, all the biblical scholars and theologians, all the praying conservatives and liberals, all the people who believe “prayer changes things” or alters world events or really does anything at all.  Bring all these folks to the next town, like Moore, OK, when the forecasters are issuing their predictions and the sirens are sounding (people in Moore had a few days warning).  All the “people of prayer” will circle the city, hold hands and pray in any and all the ways they choose.  They can sing and squeeze the holy book of their choice.  They can dance and yell or meditate in silence.  As the twister (or tsunami or quake or firestorm or whatever) approaches, they could all pull in tight and surround the school full of kids, hundreds of frightened children hugged by their courageous teachers.  And the crowd prays like there was no tomorrow.  Now, this Ultimate Prayer Circle (UPC, like a FEMA of Faith) would boldly and without fear face down that tornado with every prayer possible.  They would stand their ground, standing firm on their faith, “claim the Name” and “lean on the everlasting arms.”  As the towering beast approached, they would not move, forming a Wall of Prayer.  If any time was Miracle Time, this is it.

What could we expect?  Imagine this.  The dust and debris settles.  Silence descends.  The tornado has roared passed.  The town is gone, the circle is decimated, scripture pages swirling in the wind. . .or are they?  Maybe the circle still stands.  Maybe the school is intact, the children are safe and emerge into the sunshine.  Maybe everyone falls to their knees or leaps for joy and the herds of media hounds, cameras rolling, stand silently, for once, in awe.  All is well.  The Ultimate Prayer Circle successfully convinced the Greatest Power in the Universe (aka God of Love) to stop the wind, what to Him (or Her) is nothing more than a bit of dust kicked up into the air (remember, Jesus “calmed the wind” and later said “greater things will you do”).  A huge open-air worship service spontaneously forms with thousands and then millions streaming in, like a new field of dreams, with CNN and NBC and FOX and NPR all covering the event, full of love for each other and the God Who is Lord of Tornadoes. Everyone’s in tears and everyone, even the hardest shell atheist, becomes a no-doubt believer.  The UPC becomes the best– really the only–response to any disaster about to happen on the planet.  As an arm of the newly formed United (in Prayer) Nations, their leaders fly all around the world to face down anything anywhere, natural or unnatural disaster, with their protective wall of prayer.

I’d like to see that.  Really.  Then skeptics like me, who once believed so strongly in the power of prayer, who prayed countless passionate prayers as pastoral leaders, will have to simply shut up and sit back dumbfounded, shaking our heads at the awesomeness and effectiveness of proven faith-based prayer.  We would, I would, have to say, “Well, I guess it’s not all about me, it’s about prayer, it’s about faith, it’s about a real Creator who controls the Cosmos, who cares, who listens, who protects. . .if only we ask.”  And we’ll be forced to admit, to confess, that all “tornadoes” of any kind–cancer and violence and war and everything–can be fought back by the Wall of Prayer.  The Secular has fallen to the Sacred; defeated, finally, by The Wall.

The possibilities have my head spinning.

{Postscript.  We’re sorry and sad to say we can imagine a very different result.  The prayer circle, in fact hundreds of prayer circles, millions and billions of prayers from people of every faith in every country on earth, couldn’t stop the storm, the tsunami, the fire, the earthquake.  People died, hundreds, even thousands of children died, or were horribly injured, or lost their families.  Years and years of “acts of God” faced with acts of Prayer. . .  Years and years of unanswered prayers, pleas, begging for help.  The warriors of prayer swept away with nothing left but silence and pain and suffering and. . .something wonderful came of this tornado:  people helping others rebuild their homes and their lives and their hopes; undistracted by supernatural supplications, they work together to prepare as best they can for personal and community disasters, with thoughtful, reasonable discussion based on experience, with wise leadership and good sense.  Though the UPC was literally blown away, people know they have each other; they are grounded in their goodness and the overwhelming power of compassion and lovingkindness.  They have re-discovered the timeless truth:  with no guarantees in the face of the immense power of Nature, the resilient human community can face any storm as a common circle that is, time and again, its own shelter}

Chris Highland

May 2013

*Also published on State of Formation (Journal of Inter-religious Dialogue)


One thought on “Praying Down the Tornado

  1. Pingback: State of Formation - Praying Down the Tornado By Chris Highland

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