As lovers of the sacred arts – people who dream magic and dance and weave, tell stories and sing together – we are lovers of something we feel is much broader, more luminous, higher or deeper, something more meaningful and more wholesome, than the affairs of a dusty and dim political world, a world so deeply scarred and fractured, as it sometimes seems, beyond repair. If we could live on the Isle of the Blessed, far away from the squalid disputes and the daily strife, how many of us would not choose to do so at once? (Indeed sometimes you will find me preferring to live under a Magic Mushroom, with a good book of course.) But the scarred and fractured world is our world. It is the one world we have. And it requires our love – especially the love of those of us who are lovers of the sacred arts.
Who better to teach us about these matters than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, which I encourage you to read, Dr. King articulates the four steps for any nonviolent political campaign. Those four steps are:
1. Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist
4. Direct action
An essential part of self-purification is self-examination. If I am physically threatened during a campaign, will I hit back? Do I have the inner strength to stand my ground, and in standing my ground, most importantly am I prepared to turn the other cheek? If I can put myself to the test, and say in all seriousness “yes, I am prepared to turn the other cheek” then I am ready for the campaign. If I cannot honestly affirm this, I have still have work to do.
On the basis of what Dr. King argues in his Letter, I suspect that he understood prayer to play a significant role in the process of self-examination.
This is because prayer here is much more than a mere entreaty to obtain something. We put ourselves to the test. Prayer and blessing calls us out. By praying, we are expressing a desire not to hide, but to lay our cards on the table, to get real, to be honest with ourselves and with others, and to get with it.
The upshot is that direct action occurs long before any picket line is created or protest signs are made. Prayer in this sense has a direct action all of its own, in the truest sense of the word, it is an action that works directly on us.
In other words, prayer and blessing that is only externally directed is not prayer or blessing at all. There is no blessing way in that. When tragedy strikes the understandable reaction among people of all stripes – among religious people and even among people who do not identify as religious – is to pray for a better outcome, to pray for healing, pray for light (even though sometimes what is actually called for is healing darkness), pray for love (even though what might be more useful is clear-eyed discernment), to pray and then…do nothing, change nothing, learn nothing.
As the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Prayers must go inwards too. They must put ourselves to the test, strike at the roots of who we are, what we think, what we say, how we treat one another and how we live.
In a world in which sometimes seems like a runaway train, these are the results – this is the action – that truly makes a difference. May it be so!
And, for those of you who would like to get in on some group blessing, I am performing a FREE community altar for La Señora Guadalupe on her feast day, December 12th. Learn about her and send in a petition to be included in our family altar by going here.