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Saint Mary’s lecture series focuses on prayer in the face of violence

| Friday, February 22, 2019

In a world full of genocide, hunger, pain and suffering, it is sometimes hard for Christians to turn to prayer. However, Boston College assistant professor of theology Dr. Andrew Prevot spoke about the usefulness of prayer in the face of violence in his lecture, “Christian Prayer in a Violent World,” on Thursday.

Prevot used examples such as the story of Job, Christian compliance with the Holocaust and congressmen’s responses to the Parkland shootings as failures of prayer — and the prayers of refugees, slaves and leaders of righteous movements as successes. Testimony, music and poetry demonstrate the usefulness of prayer in the face of great violence and tragedy, he said.

The lecture mainly focused on one simple question.

“What good might Christian prayer do in such a contest in such a world?” Prevot asked.

Prevot started by advocating the counterpoint to his argument — listing ways that Christian prayer seems to fail in a violent world.

“Given the violence of the world, it might seem to us that Christian prayer is not a very promising way to respond,” he said.

One of the ways Prevot described prayer’s futility against violence was the feeling of rejection from God that comes from unanswered prayers.

“Praying to response to violence only adds insult to injury,” Prevot said.

The second way that he described prayer as escalating violence was through the belief that God is on the side of the perpetrators.

“There may be a way of looking at prayer as a way to comfort those doing the violence,” Prevot said.

The third way that prayer can be compliant in violence was, according to Prevot, as an excuse for inaction. He highlighted this through the trend of responding to national episodes of gun violence with the phrase “thoughts and prayers.”

“This appeal to thoughts and prayers is only helping people to create a more violent world, and doing nothing to prevent it,” Prevot said.

Prevot described the ways that prayer can be utilized incorrectly, and in extension, can become a contribution to violence, rather than a solution. The main incorrect usage he described was idol worship, or worshiping a false God. He used former President George W. Bush’s statements on his decisions on the Iraq War happening through prayer as an example.

“Is [the Iraq war] the result of [President George W. Bush’s] prayer life?” Prevot challenged. “What kind of God is he worshipping? It is really difficult for us to be sure that we are praying to the true and living God and not just some figment of our imagination. That is just serving our own agenda or selfish needs.”

Prevot also discussed how prayer positively affects the world through comfort and inspiration.

“Prayer has played a crucial role in the formation of some heroically nonviolent people,” he said. “ … Prayer can prepare one to be a powerful witness to Christ and active servant to his kingdom. Without it, would we have the Catholic Worker’s movement? Would we have the Civil Rights Movement? I’m not really sure.”

Prevot believes that prayer is not only a comfort for some, but also a necessity.

“The freedom to decide not to pray is really a luxury,” Prevot said. “Many people of this world have nowhere to turn but prayer when they are dealing with the daily tragedies of their lives.”

He suggested a raw form of prayer that lacks reservation, especially when someone is praying in response to violence.

“In words, silence or screams, with fear, sadness or anger — no decorum is required and no emotion is off limits for prayer to be a place of free expression of whatever feeling you have in this violent world.”

Prevot finished by offering a distinct list of ways to pray in order to avoid the mistakes in prayer he mentioned at the beginning of the lecture.

“How do we pray in this violent world? … We listen to the cries of the poor and vulnerable … Never use prayer as an excuse not to act. Instead, use it to prepare yourself for action.” Prevot said.

Prevot recognized that prayer can seem pointless when faced with the violence of today’s world, but he also added that through the right kind of prayer, violence can be decreased — creating a more peaceful and loving world.

“Constancy in this sort of prayer is, I believe, that promises, path toward a less violent world.”

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