The third Mermaid Avenue album has just been released. This is a series of records where Billy Bragg and Wilco take the lyrics of Woody Guthrie that were never turned into song and... make them into song. One of the songs on the new release is called Union Prayer and it provoked some surmising in my soul. The suggestion is that Guthrie would pray until his knees were sore if he thought prayer could change the world giving black people votes and stopping the lynchings among many other injustices of the pre Civil Rights America mentioned in the song. It seems that Guthrie is not convinced in the prayer route.
I don’t think though that the song is anti prayer or anti Christian. Guthrie’s music in songs like Jesus Christ and Christ For President showed a real reverence for Jesus and Christianity but just as Guthrie critiqued society he also critiqued Christianity. Guthrie is suggesting that prayer without action is a questionable notion. I believe that God does answer prayer, at times without our help, but I do sympathise with Guthrie’s judgement. Every time I pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” I believe that my life after I say Amen is to live my life to answer that prayer. My prayers need a commitment to help God answer them.
I have been having conversations about a new prayer venture to pray for societal healing here in N. Ireland. We have a political peace but societal peace is still a long way off. We need to not be complacent in our political peace but to use it is an opportunity to do something more foundational to our society. As a few of us chat about a prayer venture we are keen not to send a message out that we are piously begging God from within safe walls of Churches rather than being involved in the making of that peace. The Churches have been a poor contributor to anything called reconciliation in N. Ireland and we want something robust in missional intent as well as spiritual discipline.
For sure we should be on our knees to pray but we need to get up off our knees to be the salt and light of the world that Jesus called us to be, God’s conduits to bringing the prayers we pray to reality.