Yesterday, when I went to my spiritual direction program at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino, the topic of the government shutdown came up at lunch. Yes, even in the midst of a day devoted to spirituality, we couldn't avoid politics! Everyone at my table expressed consternation about how the conservatives were behaving and were desperate and gloomy about the outcome of this latest DC poop storm. It seemed like hopeless impasse.
Then it occurred to me that exactly one month Pope Francis called on Christians around the world to fast and pray for a peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict. This seemed almost quixotic: the President had drawn a "red line," our national prestige was at stake, and the US seemed hell-bent on attacking Syria and punishing Assad.
Nonetheless, many of us listened to the Pope: we fasted and prayed. I remember going to the Stillpoint lunch on Sept 6, and feeling the grinding pains of hunger in my gut as I watched others eat their lunch and desserts. I not only didn't eat, I didn't drink any water--and that's the hardest part, especially since September is super hot.
I was comforted (somewhat) by remembering Jesus' words: "Blessed are those who HUNGER and THIRST for justice."
Miraculously, our prayers were answered in ways that we couldn't have anticipated. Several days later, Putin made a game-changing proposal that took everyone by surprise. President Obama decided to change course and adopt a diplomatic rather than military approach. We aren't out of the woods yet, but for now our leaders are acting like grown ups.
It certainly helped that we barraged our elected officials with letters and took to the streets to protest, But I can't help thinking that prayer was a factor. God calls us to be peacemakers because God is a God of shalom.
I also know that God is on the side of the poor, and that God wants every one to have access to affordable health care---actually, free health care--as evidenced in the behavior of early Christians, who (unlike pagan spiritual healers) provided their services for free.
So I encourage you to pray for our leaders--for Ted Cruz, John Boener, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and the rest. Remember each of them is made in God's image, each of them has a conscience and a spark of the Divine.
I'm glad that our Quaker lobby FCNL reminds us to write to our elected officials not in the spirit of anger and disgust (justifiable though those feelings may be), but as if there is "that of God" in those we are trying to reach and persuade. (See fcnl.org.)
Keep sending letters and doing what you can to let elected officials know how you feel about the shutdown, and about the Affordable Health Care Act. But don't minimize or dismiss the power of prayer.
Senator Ted Cruz prayed with a bunch of his followers in front of the White House in front of cameras. I won't judge how sincere he was. But I do know that Jesus told us such public prayers aren't worth much. What really matters to God is how we pray in secret, in the depths of our hearts. So let's hold in prayer our elected officials, and those in our country who are suffering because of poverty and a lack of affordable health care. Lord, I know you hear our prayers because it is You who inspired them!