eThoughts : February 1, 2009: Psychology, Rhetoric, and Grace: Prayer and the Presidential Inauguration
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States is complete. The legacy is anything but. The amount of work the world, the nation, and this man have to do is monumental. What is likely to make the task really difficult is that despite the enormous problems we all recognize, few realize what is really on the table: the promise and opportunity of a better life. This current crisis is much different than those of WWI, WWII, or the Great Depression when the American people could clearly see the enormous problems and the dire consequences.
The promise and the realization of a better life for humankind are noteworthy and noble endeavors. Yet, like the frog immersed in water slowly coming to a boil, we do not seem to realize the very real brink on which we are positioned. This precarious situation and the dangerous inattention that surrounds it could absolutely sink us.
As if to set this point about our inattention, I noted the nature of the prayers delivered during the inauguration ceremonies. Prayers are invocations to God. Even President Obama closed an otherwise good speech with an invocation for God to bless us—“God bless America”—as though God might grant us favor, even if not granting others the same consideration. Certainly the religious representatives, and not of all the myriad of religions in America, both before and after Obama’s speech, prayed for God’s blessing, but mostly for us.
Now I mean no offense, but language can set neurological pathways and can form a self-fulfilling prophecy. And prayer certainly utilizes language. Prayer is important—in its best incarnation, prayer is a meditation about attention and by way of that attention, a talisman to protect us from abandonment, scarcity and the loss of meaning. But when we invoke God to bless us we are sorely missing reality—a most dangerous inattention that can undermine and sink us.
Consider that God does not dole out blessings. It annoys me to hear language that supposes God is in such a business. If we are going to pray, and I think we should, we should pray for us to recognize God’s blessings. We are blessed. Our problem is we forget that. And we have no business asking God to do what is already done. This is not because God would be offended, but because it perpetuates a delusion, that we need to ask for grace. What we need to do, is to recognize its existence. And we need to perpetuate that realization.
Prayer is a calling for our attention, not God’s. We have work to do to fix our creations, not to ask God to help us clean up our mess. The tools necessary for the clean-up have already been granted. The tools for the prevention of the mess have been granted as well. But our selective inattention has allowed us to bump along unaware of the slow boil of the water, the pot, and the fire we’ve lit.
We have grace and the best we can do is to engage in the behaviors—including talking and listening—that orient us towards the inclusion that God has given. Our job is to embrace the grace. Our job is to recognize that while all are blessed., some just don’t care. But because some don’t care is no reason for us to not care, even if we have to take an action to stop those few psychopaths who, for whatever reasons, are so buried in their delusion that they embrace destruction over well being—a point that President Obama did make during his speech.
If we are to keep the noble endeavor of a better life for all of humankind—indeed for all God’s creation—and to honor the stewardship for which we are responsible, we had better keep the filing straight and the language clear. And we need to start right now—it’s already late. And when praying, pray for us to get it, to see clearly, and to see the grace. And don’t ever again pray for blessings for some.
Such messages don’t have to start at the “top,” but the President does have a wider audience than most. That just may be a good place to start…