Why I Am Done With Thoughts and Prayers

There is no question that social media has this amazing way of evoking our very best and our very worst.

But sometimes, our widespread immersion in social media can even make the most innocuous and otherwise unnoticed idle chatter turn into a massive tsunami of worthless throw aways, just by their sheer volume.

In other words, when each of us has the ability to see, in real time, the social media responses of hundreds of thousands of people to tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, a certain pattern emerges and becomes evident, that may have otherwise gone unnoticed or undetected if we were not so connected to everyone.

And this is certainly the case with the perpetual inundation of “thoughts and prayers,” that find their way scattered under news stories, across timelines, and in comment sections every day for every single triviality or real tragedy.

What may have never reached critical mass (or critical irritation), and then may have never become the focal point of impending death by the masses, had it never met the World Wide Web, “thoughts and prayers” have now become the figurative thorn in our collective social media side.

‪”Thoughts and prayers” is the 21st century equivalent to its 20th century “God bless you” predecessor.‬

‪It is empty and throwaway language that means nothing. Empty and throwaway language that makes us feel good that we “doing something,” but neither elicits nor requires action. Empty and throwaway language that appears as a nice gesture to all but demands no participation and no change.‬

‪And in my opinion, that’s why we need to be done with “thoughts and prayers.”‬

One may wonder why there is such a harsh and critical backlash against such a perceived nicety. And, of course, there may be myriad reasons, but the most evocative response comes from a growing movement of individuals who are done with empty talk and throwaway language that has a good and virtuous appearance, but does nothing for real world impact and that simply perpetuates the problem by verbally agreeing that something needs to change but negates the words through inaction.

“Thoughts and prayers” are devoid of meaning, of value, of consequence, of participation, of action, of change.

That’s why I believe prayer has largely been misunderstood, because it was never meant to be merely a mental assent or vocal exercise.

Prayer is not exclusively to be understood as thoughts or words, but as alignment. 

And to that end, our “thoughts and prayers” have failed, because we have made them empty gestures devoid of embodiment.

Prayer, properly understood, is to be an alignment with God and the embodiment of God’s kingdom that is to be lived out in the world through our lives.

When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray he said, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

That line alone is the key to unlocking prayer- God’s Kingdom coming to earth and God’s will being done on earth requires people embodying this prayer.

Again, prayer is an alignment with God and the embodiment of God’s kingdom that is to be lived out in the world through our lives.

We have mistakenly repeated the Lord’s Prayer as if it is a request being made to God to magically make something happen on earth while we passively sit around and wait for it to happen.

But that was never the intention of the Lord’s Prayer.

When Jesus says, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” it is a prayer declaring our alignment and partnership with God to bring heaven and earth together as one through our lives. God’s will is that his Kingdom will extend into all the earth and the only way that happens is through us.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are agreeing and aligning ourselves with God to be the embodiment of transformation and forgiveness and reconciliation and healing in the world.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are taking an active position in the world to extend the God’s kingdom of love and peace and hope to individuals, families, and communities.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are those who, do not just passively send our “thoughts and prayers” in tragedy, but become the prayer in the ways we nurture and care for the hurting, in the ways we sit in solidarity with those who are grieving, and in the ways we give sacrificially of ourselves on their behalf.

Please don’t miss this- prayer is not simply a verbal request that is made to God that then waits around for God to do something.

Prayer is a transformative, heart, body, mind, and soul alignment with God in which we literally become the prayer. We become the means through which God is working in the world. We become the point where God meets people in their place of pain. Prayer is our, “Here am I, send me” moment.

Goodbye, thoughts and prayers!

SELF-CHECK: What does it look like for me to move from being a “thoughts and prayers” person to actually becoming the embodiment of prayer in a situation? To this person? To these people? To this community?

Peace and love…

Brandon

Awakening to All That is Good

It was an early fourth morning at Hance Creek, one of the few lush, vibrant ecosystems in the heart of the dry, arid, and unforgiving Grand Canyon. We had been on the trail-less Escalante Route the three previous days, hugging the mighty Colorado River in complete isolation, far from the usual touristy stops along the south rim and well beyond the maintained and frequented hiker trails that ascend and descend in and out of the canyon. We were in the rarely travelled backcountry of the Grand Canyon.

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Our last ascent from Hance Creek would take us up a couple thousand feet to the visually stunning Horseshoe Mesa and then another thousand or so feet to our end destination at Grandview Point.

As we broke camp and steadily trekked toward the base of Horseshoe Mesa, there was a palpable and shared sense of excitement and trepidation. Excitement that we were conquering yet another highly-prized backpacking bucket list adventure that would add serious cred to our growing resume’, but trepidation in knowing what kind of climb still stood between us and our exit.

The sun was already blazing in the near cloudless early morning sky and there was all but a single, lowly shade tree as we approached the towering mesa. We thought it would be the perfect spot for a quick drink and a temporary reprieve from the sun before our big climb.

As we stood there in our short respite, one of the guys asked if I had any music on my phone. Usually I clear everything off of it in order to make room for all of the pictures I take during the trip, but to my surprise, there was one single song waiting in the queue.

As I pressed play, we all quickly quieted.

In that one anticipatory moment, Passing Afternoon by Iron and Wine sweetly greeted us, and, to be honest, it felt as if I had never heard a song before.

There was an overwhelming intimacy I had never fully experienced through a song.

There was an acuteness to every sound, to every word sung. There was a simple, yet profound appreciation for every note, every melody, every harmony. There was a resonance in the depths of my soul that made this moment one of the most memorable of my life.

For four days the only sounds we heard were of nature- the blowing winds, the rushing waters, the melodious singing of birds, and each other’s voices.

And in finding that space, it was nothing short of a peaceful and calm bliss.

For the sounds of busyness and distraction had been silenced. Every tendency toward consumption had been vacated. An easing stillness cleansed and refreshed our souls.

And it was there where my appreciation was renewed.

I wasn’t listening to a song as a means to distract or as one trying to fill the void of an uncomfortable silence or as one simply consuming to consume, I was fully present and listening, as if for the first time, with deep appreciation.

Let me tell you.

There is something renewing and refreshing about purposefully removing oneself to find refuge in the stillness and quiet, or intentionally abstaining and then slowing reuniting. It is an essential discipline undertaken to be continually reminded of the resident goodness and simple beauty of all that we can all too easily take for granted.

And it is in this kind of intentionality, of seeking the refuge of stillness and quiet, of purposefully escaping the incessant activity, busyness, and noise of life, that moves us from a place of endless addiction, mindless consumption, and taking what we have for granted, to a place of simplicity and beauty, to a place of experiencing and appreciating all things anew.

I had this same experience and depth of appreciation when I fasted for a week a few years ago. When I met with my brothers with whom I had been fasting over that week, we took the warm, homemade molasses and honey communion bread with a cup of deep, red earthy wine together to break our fast. There was an intensity and complexity in what I could smell and an explosion of diversity in what I could taste.

In that moment, I was thoroughly appreciative and truly thankful.

We live in an age in which stimulation and consumption are all too normal in our lives. 

The culture we have created keeps us constantly seeking more and more stimulation, and we are never quite satisfied or at peace in stillness or solitude, let alone finding the essential refreshing of our souls in that space.

The culture in which we live and participate keeps us consuming and discarding, and we never quite find the satisfaction in what we have, let alone appreciating or finding beauty in it.

For it’s not in seeking more and more stimulation or consumption in which we find greater depths in this life. It is only in a regular rhythm of sacrificial discipline where the Spirit can awaken our senses to discover and appreciate, moment by moment, all that we take for granted.

We were a few hundred feet from the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. We had traversed 110-miles over eight arduous days through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, in areas too remote for even the strongest cellular signal.

It wasn’t the first weeklong backpacking trip we had taken in which we were not able to communicate with our families. And it is always a surreal experience to be so remote, so off the grid that one has no way of hearing the voices of their loved ones, of knowing what is going on in the world, or knowing what kind of world one is walking back into.


But as we finally reached the 14,500 foot summit of Whitney, something unexpected happened. Our phones began to vibrate and ring continuously at different intervals, almost as if we were each receiving our own unique Morse Code messages, as they connected to service. As I looked down at the screen and began to read my text messages and then listen to my voicemails from my wife, my kids, and my mom and dad, tears began to stream down my face.

There was a sweetness and tenderness in their voices that I had too often overlooked or had not fully appreciated.

The truth is that we can very easily miss the simple beauty of those things that we take for granted, those things we quickly discard so we can consume more. And so much so, that we may not even appreciate the richness of what we have right in front of us, whether it be listening to a song, eating a meal, or enjoying the company of those we love.

Check out my backpacking blog at http://ajoyfulprocession.wordpress.com

Peace…

Brandon

All Creation Sings

It was our seventh day backpacking in the trail-less backcountry of Denali National Park in Alaska when we were awakened by the early morning sunrise in Wolverine Creek. It was going to be our biggest push yet- nine miles to exit- so we needed an early start. The cloudless, blue skies welcomed our early departure from camp.

The previous six days were the thoroughly definitive Alaskan experience- bears, glaciers, bushwacking, territorial and aggressive antelopes, torrential rains, river crossings, and 40-degree temperatures, but even more, brilliant views, wild blueberries by the millions, mountain ranges too vast and too numerous to have even been named, and an absolute solitude devoid of any human activity, communicative technology, noise pollution, or even a single, stray aircraft.

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There was a sense of great satisfaction, deep refreshment, and imminent accomplishment even as we took our first steps forward that last morning.

Alaska could never be fully conquered, but it didn’t conquer us.

And, we were about to finish something very few would ever have the honor and privilege of doing.

Grizzled and chiseled, we made our way through the gravelly and rocky Wolverine Creek toward Mt. Eielson. This rocky mount stands a mile above sea level and was our best and final hope of catching a glimpse of Alaska’s crown jewel, Denali, which had eluded us for the previous six days.

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Each labored step up the 60-degree sloped talus, which consisted of loose, softball-sized ankle busters, was aided by our trekking poles and closely accompanied by our heavy breathing. But ever so subtly, sneaking up on us westward, rising higher and higher with every foot of elevation gained, was the mighty, snow adorned Denali in all her glory.

Only seconds before, our breath was taken by strenuous activity and reduced oxygen level.

But now, our collective breath was taken by sheer majesty.

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As we reached the top of Eielson, no words were spoken, as if each of us already knew what to do and what the others were thinking.

There was a shared solemnity, a communal rite of the sacred and holy.

And along the ridge line we drifted apart, equidistant, to sit and stare and marvel and contemplate the beauty, to drink in the magnificence. It was an indescribably humbling, awe-inspiring, and deeply spiritual moment, quite certainly, the most spiritual experience of my life.

There was a familial union, an unbreakable bond between me, the creation, and the Creator. There birthed a moment of singularity between heaven and earth, of the two becoming miraculously one. The invitation was a present taste of that for which we have always desperately longed, and have continued to expectantly anticipate, in all it’s fullness, at the consummation of the Ages.

My Lord, my God.

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The truth is that we were always meant for perfect peace and perfect union with the Creator and the creation. 

And while there is a deep groaning as we await liberation from the curse, there is a perfect peace and a perfect union into which we can enter, a life into which we can presently reside, that is, not just at peace with God, but at peace with all of creation.

It is a place of shalom, a place of tranquility, completeness, and harmony with all things.

But I am afraid that the forces of our present age are actually fracturing us into successive degrees of separation from this place of shalom.

And it is evident in our busyness, in our technological attachments, in our substance abuse and addictions, in our over-consumption, in our willingness to exploit people and natural resources for finite and temporary gains, and in our utter obsession with the superficial to the neglect of our spirit.

We are quickly becoming a people without a soul, a people pretending to be alive, but who are dying from the inside-out. And this death is manifesting around us as we continue to neglect the ever-present invitation to life in the Spirit. 

As Rohr observed in our present condition, “We are a circumference people, with little access to our natural Center. We live on the boundaries of our own lives, “in the widening gyre,” as [Yeats] puts it, confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as if it were substance. As Yeats predicted, things have fallen apart, ‘the center cannot hold.'”

We were created to be so much more than the lives for which we have settled.

We were created for lives that are exceedingly full and abundant in love for all things. We were created for deep and meaningful relationships with God, with our brothers and sisters of the world, and with all of creation. We were created to taste and experience the wonder and joy of this precious life. We were created for thanksgiving for God’s daily provision. We were created to be good stewards of the animals and the land.  We were created to join all of creation in praise. We were created to be in shalom with the Creator and his good creation.

We were created for so much more.

And it doesn’t take a mountain high in the backcountry of Alaska to discover this, for our eyes to be opened, for our hearts to come alive (even though Alaska may certainly help).

All you have to do is walk outside and take a deep breath and accept the invitation.

Disconnect from all that enslaves you. Leave behind all that binds you and keeps you on the periphery and circumference of this life. Break free from your attachments and addictions. Turn off your phone, shut down your computer, power down your tablet, put them in the cabinet, and go outside.

You are entering sacred and holy space.

Do you recognize it?
Do you see it?
Do you hear it?
Do you feel it?

Lie in the grass under a shade tree, feel the cool blades of grass beneath your fingers, let the wind blow over you. Meditate on the sounds of the birds and the swaying of the leaves on every branch of the tree. Consider every single detail of the rough bark on the tree and all of the busy insects moving hastily through every deep groove.

Contemplate the Love and Beauty and Artistry within each thing. And how that Love surrounds you and how that Love holds you and how that Love invites you.

Spirit, Come!

Is this not humbling?
Is this not awe-inspiring?
Is this not miraculous?

Is this not deeply and profoundly spiritual?

Is this Love not embracing you and holding you and enveloping you? Is this Love of the Creator not calling your soul to greater breadths and depths? Is this Love not what your heart has always desired?

This is the present taste of all we desperately long for in it’s fullness one day, and all we continue to expectantly and patiently anticipate in our future.

But it is also that which is always right here, in front of us, waiting to be discovered. For those who seek it, will surely find it.

It is good.

The Psalmist writes, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Shalom in all and through all…

Brandon

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