To all my brethren, praying now for Charleston or gathering tonight in the coming days… I am no one at all to offer these thoughts, but you must decide for yourselves whether they are needful:
Consider how shameful it would be to falsely divide their Christian souls from their black bodies. Much of the commentary I have seen tries to do so. They were Black Christians, specifically; the shooter committed this heinous act out of hatred for their black bodies. Our prayers must deal with that reality. We do violence all over again to those 9 souls if we whitewash their Black identity with their Christian identity. For many of us Black Christians, the two identities live joyously as one in the same body, mutually affirming the other. The Charleston 9 are martyrs for both the Christian faith and the Black American struggle.
Consider that the universe bends towards justice, but another force bends toward death. AME’s were created because many American churches bent with the Sin, Flesh and the Devil toward a throwaway culture of death: they segregated blacks, viewing them as less of a person in God’s eyes than whites. So blacks left. Hundreds of years later that same hatred followed them into the church and murdered them in cold blood. We all carry the spark of God’s justice within us, made in his image – but we also carry the spark of Sin, Flesh and the Devil. What violence – overt, subtle, great or small – lurks in our hearts? How is God using this moment to call us to repentance, and for what?
Consider the power of forgiveness. Now is our moment to turn into one another in loving embrace, not turn away in mutual suspicion. We must also forgive the shooter. We must not desire to answer blood with blood, but answer hatred with love. Let us pray for all white supremacists, that they may know the love of God, and the joy that comes from knowing and loving your neighbor as a co-equal laborer in God’s kingdom.
Consider lastly the power of silence. It is godly wisdom to be silent so we may hear God in the midst of a violent storm. But it is cowardice – a sin – to be silent in the face of evil. Let us be silent like sheep, but only so long as to let the Shepherd speak, then let us shout his words, roaring like lions.
Yet, also consider that we may no longer have words. I know after too many years of violence against blacks, I have few left to speak. I have been reading Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment alongside Charleston news, and am reminded of Paul:
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.
Do we hurt enough today to only groan in prayer? Do we hate Sin, Flesh and the Devil so much… love our neighbor so deeply… hope enough in the kingdom, that the cry of our soul manifests only as unintelligible noise to the flesh, but a mournful, beautiful spiritual to God’s ears?
Any prayer is better than no prayer at all – yet, the question remains, how deep are we willing to go? If we can bravely face that question, we may be considered truly praying for Charleston, and be one step closer to the kingdom of God.