Note: This essay originally appeared in Assymetry: A Selection for a New Old America, a print zine published by Janneane and Benjamin Blevins of PRINTtEXT. If you’d like a print copy, send me an email or visit the periodical shop!
Photo: “Her First Flag” by Lauren Zoll
I don’t pray. The religion of my youth no longer speaks to my inner workings or makes space for the entirety of who I am ever becoming. Long gone are the days of a skinny dark-skinned girl perched in the third pew back adorned in Sunday best, kneeling before God and fashioning my words into rehearsed lamentations and deepest wanting; my prayers more closely resembled whispered wishes in the key of Jiminy Cricket. I don’t pray. But my faith has grown and transformed with me, fortified in consuming fire and baptized in troubled waters, and where I invest it is a world apart from that of my childhood.
If I had to name my spiritual practice, I’d loosely call it inquisitive agnosticism. I believe in a God, but she looks and moves through the world less like Jim Caviezel and more like Miss Major Gracy-Griffin. The questions of faith I repeatedly ask myself and my closest don’t yet have answers that bring me any semblance of peace or understanding. However, I am rooted in this sense of uncertainty and discomfort, the push and pull of knowing and unknowing is great hope.
Contrary to popular belief, the Land of the Free has been welcome home to the weeping and gnashing of teeth since its inception. The Obama administration and Tuesday’s election results are the Book of Revelation come to fruition, depending on who is telling the tale. But this rebellious Sunday schooler gained timeless wisdom from the Bible: people don’t know how to listen. Listening demands conscious intent and responsive care to hear and address what is historically and presently ignored, erased, remade in self-image. Communities cut deepest by the sins of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy suffer in silence and screams, indistinguishable to those unconsciously and willfully lacking the talent and gift of discernment. Hear this:
Hell is not upon us. Hell is already here, been here. And we are all caught in crossfire and culpable to varying degrees.
I don’t pray. But my faith is the Lord’s Prayer in theory and in truth, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Hell is scaling mountains at the expense of people relegated to valleys. Hell is our eyes fixed on hills, waiting on help to arrive that is instead within and among us. Hell is rooted in reality, the best and worst that is here and now, but we can press toward an earthly heaven — what we can’t touch, feel, see where and when we are.
This requires a disruption of power we wield to enact hell on one another. This requires a radical redefinition of prayer. No, not mere utterances behind closed doors or convicted speech cocooned by fellow worshippers, but prayer that takes shape by holding space for self-reflection and difficult dialogue, reconciling deep-seated harm, planting church in odd places, being sanctuary for the othered, begetting culture shifts.
We can reimagine what is unjust, and create liberation yet to be, a super/natural work of hands and hearts. Today and always, pray without ceasing