Enough for All

For decades in Washington, DC, there has been an event called the National Prayer Breakfast – where clergy, government officials, celebrities, and many other people of faith come together to share in a time of fellowship and prayer for the work that they do. However, there was a sense this year that there was an important population that may not be represented at the National Prayer Breakfast, and that it was important to join in praying with them and in their voice as well.

It was out of this spirit, building off of the Occupy movement, that the Peoples Prayer Breakfast was launched – praying that we would recognize and work so that there is enough for all. Sweet Honey In the Rock’s Dr. Ysaye Barnwell sang, ““I woke up this morning with my mind set on justice…”, and it was this message that united all the people in that room – from members of the Occupy movement, to DC area clergy, to staff of denominational offices, to members of Congress, to folks struggling with hunger, homelessness, and poverty. In so many ways, this breakfast was an extension of the work we have been doing together – from prayer vigils on the lawn of the United Methodist Building, to action alerts supporting a just and moral budget process, to the work we do in our churches – supporting soup kitchens and homeless shelters, to my arrest this summer, kneeling to pray in the Capitol Rotunda.

“We thought prayer shouldn’t be used for access to power or to move forward people’s agendas,” said Brian Merritt, an organizer of the alternative breakfast who is pastor of the city’s Palisades Community Church. “Prayer connects us to something greater than ourselves, but also moves us in action for those around us. It challenges us to confront others’ needs … Prayer is something people agonize over, people cry over. But it’s not always something that makes those who have power feel comfortable.”

The goal of the Peoples Prayer Breakfast was not to offset, or disqualify, the voices of prayer coming from the National Prayer Breakfast. But to remember that when we are praying for our nation, for our priorities, for the work that we do together, that there are more voices that must be lifted up. The call was simply that we must ensure there is “enough for all.” The room was decorated with artwork and placards calling for basic dignities for all, reminding us of the things that “everybody needs” — a warm bed, a decent education, clean water, a roof over one’s head.

These are prayers that are not the exclusive domain of the Peoples Prayer Breakfast – it would be my prayer that it is also what is being lifted up at the National Prayer Breakfast. And it is amazing to think what we might do when we are all praying together.

Praying the Psalms in Lent

Basin, Towel, and Bible for LentDietrich Bonhoeffer titled one of his books The Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible. As part of his seminary experiment the students and teachers would pray the psalms together. Though it might seem innovative to some, the book of Psalms has been a hymn and prayer book for the people of God for centuries.

This approach to the book of Psalms stands in pretty stark contrast to our current ways of reading scripture. Rather than reading the Bible for themes, or ideas, or theological concepts, praying scripture teaches us to present the range of our experiences to God. Invariably, while praying these prayers, the reader will encounter emotions or images that say nothing to their current experience. This is not such a bad thing. The language and images of these old hymns refuse to leave us at the heights of praise or the depths of despair. As Don Sailers has said, the psalms speak of humanity at full stretch before God. That is to say, humanity stretched out between the postures of lament and of praise. Praying these ancient words lets us call out to God without reservation. At the same time, they offer words of comfort and challenge from the same God we invoke. In all, the psalms work on our inner life through spoken and read words, shaping us into more Christ like persons with each refrain.

For this season of Lent, I am not going to give something up. Instead, I am going to add something to my daily routine. For the forty days of Lent I will pray through the entire book of Psalms. So that means, six days a week from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday I will be praying at least four Psalms.

If you are new to this way of reading scripture, here is a short article from Christianity Today to get you started. To guide us through the season, a calendar has been posted on our website.

I invite you to join me in this practice. It really does not matter which translation you use, simply find a rendering of the psalms that leads you into prayer. There are many fine translations, some good paraphrases, and multitudes of musical settings.

Let’s take this time as a church to pray together, and not just in our own familiar words, but with the very words of scripture. Let’s let the prayer book of the Bible be our teacher this lent.