Common Prayer Subverts Our Present Anxiety

I have been attempting to pray daily using the pocket edition of Common Prayer from Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. It’s a good way to sustain a daily prayer habit (something I consistently struggle with), and also helps me to not feel like time I spend in prayer needs to be spontaneous to be heartfelt and meaningful. With Common Prayer, I am allowed to let my need for originality go in favor of joining a broad group of Christians whom I know are praying the same prayers I am, every day.

The juxtaposition of the words of the midday prayer caught me off guard today. Since last Friday, I have curbed all social media use — not entirely, but my use of Twitter has greatly diminished. After spending a week in anger and frustration at the immigration situation (about which I could do literally nothing except make a call to my representatives, who had already critiqued the president’s position anyway), I decided that I needed a break from a timeline full of outrage. So I stepped back for the weekend. I tentatively took a peek at my timeline again on Monday, but only once. The same has been true for yesterday and today. I just can’t help but feel that allowing my brain space to be overtaken by political and social outrage is a misuse of my attention.

The pocket edition’s midday prayer, however, offers a subversive response to the evil and anger we find in the world:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred, let me bring love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy…

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our brothers and sisters throughout the world, who live and die in poverty and pain. Give them today, through our hands, their daily bread; and through our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen.

The next section of the prayer is a recitation of the Beatitudes. You know, “Blessed are the poor,” “Blessed are the hungry,” and so on.

Most of my concerns about social media that I have expressed on this blog and elsewhere have centered around both civil discourse and focus. Those are true and good reasons to stay off social media, but they are really only half of the story for me. I’m also convinced by James K.A. Smith’s argument in Desiring the Kingdom that “All habits and practices are ultimately trying to make us into a certain kind of person” (83). If I’m spending my time on Twitter — a service that is increasingly political, siloed, and feeds on outrage before it feeds on virtuous action, into what kind of person is that habit forming me? Later, Smith writes, “Some of the habits and practices that we are regularly immersed in are actually thick formative practices that over time embed in us desires for a particular version of the good life.” So it’s not just about the kind of person I’m being formed into; my understanding of what constitutes a vision of a good, beautiful world (and therefore, what is good for everyone else) will be formed by my habits and practices.

It’s here that the prayer above can help subvert and short circuit our current political and social moment. If I’m praying the Lord’s prayer and prayers like the one above every day in lieu of seeing what else people are angry about on the web, it’s more likely that I’ll become the kind of person that will (lovingly) do something about the injustice I see around me.

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