lenten journal: awakenings


    Several weeks ago, Ginger asked me if I would put together a worship service focusing on the genocide in Darfur as a way to inform our congregation and help people know what they can do. When I started doing my research, I wrote this post and found out rather quickly that the primary response people had was one of feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Since them, I’ve been thinking about how to get beyond those feelings to see what else we can find in ourselves.

    I got an email from my friend Burt who was responding to my post on The Secret and he said:

    Been reading the Lenten journal … It’s great as always. One thought about the “name it claim it piece,” I think in it’s right form, it’s mature expression, the idea in the spiritual tradition is that consciousness proceeds reality… creates it… or influences and shapes it. So, as conscious (or at least semi-conscious) beings, our thoughtful and awakened presence in the world is a part of the mix and has the possibility of changing things for better (and I guess for the worse too). I think it’s in this sense, that I can believe in intercessory prayer… our consciousness and connections are more significant than we think… so are our minds. So… you have this spiritual principle that’s been around a few thousand years and pops up in all sorts of places but what happens is, that in the hands of immaturity it turns into the shit that we hear and that you wrote about. Most “shit” out there has some connection to reality… even “name it, claim it.”

    I chewed on his paragraph for a good while today as I looked over worship resources and articles on Darfur and found myself pulled by his phrases:

    • in it’s mature expression the idea in the spiritual tradition is that consciousness precedes reality
    • our thoughtful and awakened presence in the world is a part of the mix and has the possibility of changing things
    • our consciousness and connections are more significant than we think
    • in this sense I can believe in intercessory prayer

    Intercessory prayer is an enigma to me. I’m not saying it doesn’t work; I am saying sometimes I’m not sure. When I pray for someone I can take a meal to, I can feel it. Praying here in Massachusetts for my father-in-law as he recuperates in Alabama leaves me a bit puzzled. Would the healing happen differently if I had not prayed? Would they have found more cancer? If enough of us had been praying over the last four years, could the genocide in Darfur have been averted? Are those fair questions?

    The beginnings of the trouble in Darfur started at about the same time George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq in the spring of 2003. We have people keeping count of how many soldiers have died. We hear about car bombs and IEDs most everyday on the news. Yet ten thousand people a month are being killed in the Sudan (my father pointed out to me that’s about fifteen people an hour) and we have not been awake to those numbers for the most part.

    How then should we pray? How then should we live?

    Since I grew up in Africa, I have a pretty sensitive antenna when it comes to news from the continent and I get a little snippy when what the American media feed us are photographs of Britney Spears’ shaved head and Anna Nicole’s funeral. Two weeks ago the Zambezi River flooded in Mozambique leaving almost 300,000 people homeless. I’ve not heard it mentioned in any American newscast. The news makes my heart hurt; the lack of coverage makes me angry. Yet, I still don’t know how to pray.

    Trying to awaken a congregation to the needs of the refugees and victims of the civil war in Sudan is risky because offering the information and challenge as an invitation rather than a polemic is a difficult high wire to walk – at least for me. My passion too quickly comes across as indignation. I want people to hear for the first time things I’ve been conscious of for a long time and rise up and do something.

    That’s the next issue: do what?

    There are petitions to sign and speakers to hear. We are going to watch a DVD Sunday night as part of our emphasis. There are organizations to support and contributions to make. I realize, though, when I say we can pray I’m almost apologetic, or at least a little dismissive, as though it is an action of last resort: there’s nothing we can really do, so let’s pray.

    I’m not satisfied with either side of that equation.

    I know part of what I have to get past within myself is the feeling (which I’m not proud of) that if people just knew as much as I do about Darfur or cared as much things would be different. It’s not my primary feeling, but it’s there and it can get the best of me. I may know a lot, but I’m still sitting here in Marshfield ranting into my keyboard. I don’t need to start wearing my “activist” button just yet. I’m not someone other than the folks in our congregation who are frustrated and perplexed by what is going on in the world. I’m one of them. Neither Marshfield nor Darfur has given any indication I might be their Messiah.

    Burt talked about our “thoughtful and awakened presence.” It just struck me that he didn’t say awake, but awakened, as in someone else woke us up, opened our eyes. Once again, I’m back to prayer:

    open my eyes that I may see
    glimpses of truth thou has for me
    open my eyes illumine me
    Spirit divine



    1. Milton, Yesterday you posted the following thought:

      “Part of what it means to be human is not being able to see all of the impact of what we say and do. Our actions do not have to affect large groups of people to be significant. I came up with the special and the ordinary today.”

      As you (and we) think about big things like Darfur, maybe we need to remember that we can’t be the Messiah, as you said, but that we might be able to act in ways that are still significant. What that means for prayer, I’m not sure, except that a wise minister used to say to me, “Prayer does not change things. Prayer changes us, that we may change things.”

      Anyway, those are just my rambling thoughts. Can’t wait for the Darfur service.


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