When Prayer Meets Politics

In a January 7th New York Times article” ‘A Wall and Two Prayers’ by  Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni    The article reflects on a series of meetings this past weekend, by White House and Congressional leaders.  They are seeking a way past the shut down of our nation’s government, now at day sixteen.  The article begins:

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence insisted on beginning the first meeting with a prayer, so the chief of staff to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, asked God to “to bring us together” when negotiators met Saturday in Mr. Pence’s ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The next day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff members, who were representing the Democratic side, began with their own prayer, which noted that Jesus and Mary were both refugees.

The two disparate prayers underscored the stalemate that lawmakers find themselves in as the shutdown drags into its third week: The two sides could not even agree on a pro forma invocation.

The article raises the question of what role prayer has, in the world of politics.

We know that prayer can be a means to support one’s own agenda and bias.  A cynic may suggest that Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi used prayer in precisely this way.

But I offer a warning.  Anyone who strive to use prayer in a calculating manner is moving into unchartered territory.

Prayer has a way of inserting that intangible we call Spirit, into our most carefully constructed agenda and closely held bias.  Prayer can’t be constrained or contained.  Prayer taps into a Source that is greater than our sense of what is possible. Greater even than our ego or fears.

Prayer creates an opening.  To be filled by that Mystery who goes by many names: Holy/Sacred/Divine/Spirit/Source.   Spirit can expand the smallest of imaginations and soften the hardest of hearts.

Prayer can’t be domesticated.  Not by politicians, priests, pastors or prophets.

When a person enters into prayer…even the most hard-hearted and closed-minded among us….has entered upon a process of being changed.

The Spirit nudges, stirs, compels and propels, to the point that the one who prays begin to change, evolve, transform.

Perhaps the change is dramatic like the Biblical story of Saul being brought to his knees at the Damascus gate.  The result is a new identity (Paul) with a new call to serve those he had been persecuting.

Other times the process is glacial, like the slow expanding of the Grinch’s heart at Christmas (which was oh, so small).

My point is that Mr. Pence and Mrs. Pelosi should be careful when praying.  If they continue, who knows where it will lead?

We can only hope it will lead to greater wisdom, guided by compassion.  Not just for our sake but the sake of all God’s children.

For this, let us pray.

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