Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
When I heard about the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina I was shocked. The initial details conveyed a frightening scene: a lone gunman had attacked and killed 9 individuals who had gathered together for prayer. But perhaps the most frightening detail is the fact that he had participated in their prayer meeting for an hour before he began shooting. The attack at Emanuel AME is harsh reminder of the powers of evil that are manifest in our world.
The day following the shooting I knelt in the sanctuary at St. John’s and tried to pray but the words would not come. What good are words in the midst of such tragedy? How can we pray to our God when our emotions are so devastated by the events swirling around us? How can we be faithful and angry at the same time? So, when I was invited to a prayer vigil that evening at Allen Chapel AME in Staunton I knew I needed to go.
When the service began, the pastor invited all of his fellow clergy to surround him in the pulpit because “the only way we can get through this is in community.” While he prayed for the Good Lord to strike our hearts and calm our fears and frustrations, he was surround by pastors from a myriad of denominations, the sanctuary was filled with faithful disciples spanning the great mosaic of Christianity, and we all struggled to pray in the midst of such tragedy.
There was no order of worship. There was no list of scriptures to be read. There was no attendance pad being passed through the pews. Instead we called for the Holy Spirit to guide us, shape us, and nurture us throughout our vigil. As the Spirit led us we read words from the psalms and each pastor took a turn leading the congregation in corporate or silent prayer. Our responses ranged from lifting our fists in angry frustration to singing together “Thank You Lord.” At times we stood and held one another and at others we prayed on our hands and knees. We did as the Spirit commanded and we discovered the Lord in our midst.
One of the most faithful prayers we can ever utter starts with the words from Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” Prayer is not something that has to be precise and perfect, it does not need to be all lovey-dovey, and it does not have to be filled with theological and academic language. The truest prayers are the ones that come naturally and really affirm where we are while we pray. It was from the depths of human suffering that we all prayed to the Lord that night, and the Lord listened.
This week, as we pray for the people in South Carolina, let us all remember that it is good for us to pray from the depths of our souls, that it okay for us to be angry with God while venting our frustrations, and that the only way we can get through this is in community.
If you would like to know more about the prayer vigil that took place at Allen Chapel you can watch a video about it here: Staunton Prayer Vigil