Civic prayers are perilous, and yet unless we would make the exercise completely a matter of private preference, we venture with trembling now and then out into the public square. As a Baptist I am squeamish about these places, sensitive to the realities of those gathered, but also to the potential to trivialize prayer (“so we can get started”). Still, there is something about the heady moment of freedom to act in public, understood or not, to call out to that which is deepest within and among us. I write prayers because there is nothing particularly more virtuous about an unthought about prayer that makes it superior. If anything, our “spontaneous” prayers can be crippled by the habits of mind that tend to bring the same structures and words about without careful reflection. A good editor doesn’t diminish words but strengthens them. I always try to think carefully about what I say about God, representing God, and to God that it be the best I have in that moment. I offered this prayer at the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce, before busy people who all needed to be somewhere next pretty soon.
O what a tangled web we weave when we try to voice what we believe!
We affirm that you are in control—and that it is all up to us.
In our political life, we talk as though our nation is falling to pieces
And it is also the greatest nation on earth and that nothing can stop us.
In our personal lives, we call out in the helplessness of crisis,
And then remember the scripture that says that through you we can do all things.
No wonder it sometimes looks odd to those who watch us without joining us.
But somehow, we believe that involvement matters, commitment changes things,
Hard work pays off and diligence builds character.
Yet we also sense the great Mystery that much of life comes to us before we choose it
That our moments of destiny reveal a love at work in our midst, our world,
A love that offers us purpose, resilience and hope.
We thank you this day for life in your creation.
We stop in this moment to bow our hearts and acknowledge that our lives are gift
And gifts can only be given and not created for ourselves.
The people in them, the talents we have, the opportunities that come
Are not merely of our own admirable bootstraps but were forged
By parents, family, friends, mentors, teachers, and encouragers
Who surrounded, blessed, and called us out.
May we remember in the sharing of this food, a table prepared completely by others
Who do it for us each month with gladness and hard work,
The beauty of the “given” that makes our labor worthwhile,
And offer ourselves not in the relentlessness of empty selves,
But in the sanctity of gratitude, a well that never runs dry or fails us.
And in that remembering, with thanks for this nation, the genius and vision of its founders,
For this lovely city, this wonderful state,
And for all of creation, that your divine love is finally its greatest end.
We pray for leaders and followers, believers and doubters, soldiers and peacemakers,
Protesters and insiders, CEOs and brand new employees,
That there might be, in this unusual and unsettling moment,
A surprising opportunity for unexpected resolutions,
new beginnings, reconciliation, and the renewal
of blessing and common respect.
Now may your guidance
With the wisdom of our fathers and mothers
Cause the blessings of citizenship to abound. Amen.