Community group inspires Munising pastor
I began a community meeting this past week with a prayer for a time of conflict, crisis or disaster. I don’t know about you, but I only have to turn on the news for a moment to feel like that is where we are as a nation.
And so after our group pledged allegiance to the flag and sang one verse of America the Beautiful, I prayed:
“God, our refuge and strength, you have bound us together in a common life. In all our conflicts, help us to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, to listen for your voice amid competing claims, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect … thank you for this food, the hands that brought it to us. We ask that it nourishes us to be your people in this world. Amen.” (adapted from ELW Pastoral Care, Augsburg Fortress)
Since that day, I have reflected on sharing that prayer with my friends. We are friends in service to our communities who come from many different backgrounds, identities, religions, experiences, voting records, etc. Each of us carries with us a treasure chest of values and while there are many values we hold in common with one another, none of those treasure chests are alike. It’s a really great group of people and as a slice of God’s creation, it is as colorful as one might expect. We are diverse and bound together in common life.
And I wondered: How did that prayer ring in the ears and hearts of all of us? How did the rather daring requests of the prayer intersect with those treasure chests of values we all carry with us?
The prayer first reminds us that this God so many of the planet’s people recognize by one name or another; this God who is our safe place and our source of energy, has created us to be in relationship with one another. It is an inescapable kind of bond, I am certain. Just ask any woman who has carried a child for any length of time.
This is not to say that a person never choses isolation over relation, or that someone cannot survive forced isolation, but I think we can say that those are not typically places where we thrive as creatures.
And this is not to say that we do not experience division either. Division is apparent in us. It is evident in our earliest holy scriptures. First there was a great division between us and God, brought about by humankind’s inability (spoiler alert!) to obey God 100 percent of the time. That was quickly followed by division between the first two spouses.
And then we meet the children of this first family. “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground… Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.'”(Gen. 4:2,7) We have a long human history of division.
The prayer seems to make this assumption about our tendency to divide. As if assuming the presence of human division, the prayer goes quickly and directly to our conflicts and asks God to give us the courage to confront one another in love and compassion, to do the exceedingly hard work of discerning what is God’s voice and what are the competing voices that seek continued division, isolation, conflict.
The prayer asks that God helps us raise the bar high so we may work together for the good of all and in awe of the way our varied gifts come together to create something much bigger than just ourselves, and much bigger than just for ourselves.
That’s a huge ask of God. And the question, I would suggest, is not whether God is capable of answering the prayer, but rather whether we are prepared for God to answer that prayer.
And finally, because this community meeting happens around lunch each week, we concluded with a table grace. And how appropriate is that? To come into that space each week from our bound and diverse journeys, and eat together, commune together, as we learn more about our community and seek out ways to serve.
It really is great group of people and as a slice of God’s creation, it is as colorful as one might expect. We are diverse and bound together in common life.
And so this will become a daily prayer for me — in all its challenge and promise. Please join me in speaking this prayer over this nation, over all of God’s creation, over ourselves.
Editor’s note: Ann Gonyea is pastor of Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church in Munising and an ordained pastor of the ELCA.