September 26, 2021
I went on a bit of a journey with the readings this week. Unlike previous times I didn’t actually do the readings till earlier this week. So, I read them all at once and it was a journey that was a bit familiar, a bit tumultuous, a bit skeptical, and in the end a momentary pause of what happens next.
The story of Queen Ester was familiar, one I know I’ve heard multiple times. It was familiar and did not evoke much of a response, although the Psalm was comforting. The initial salvation and celebration in the first reading followed by the psalm and the Lord being on our side felt like a familiar childhood story that exists in the subconscious. The last portion of the psalm – Our help is in the Name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth – provides that common relief that the Lord will provide help from the enemy. Kind of a nice place to be.
And then the reading from James comes along and I had a number of reactions that I am sure stem from a number of places. That was the tumultuous part of my journey.
The questions of “Are any among you suffering?” Yes, lots of people are suffering, it feels like there are always people suffering. We seem to be in a collective struggle suffering against a virus that has changed the way we live and function as a society. Needless to say, my response to “Are any among you sick?” was also a very exasperated yes. I had to reread that passage and I was surprised at my initial reaction against the response of “They should pray.” Maybe because I am a little tired of hearing news stories of people believing that their prayers are sufficient to protect them against COVID.
Maybe it was just fatigue from having to constantly pray that the suffering would decrease and communities already struggling would not have more against them. Maybe it is also constantly having to think and plan around how to keep our schools open, ensure the staff and students are safe, and carry on the regular tasks as well. It reminded me of a feeling I had last month during our first school wide meeting. I started my current job as the Chief Business Officer with Leadership Public Schools, a network of three charter high schools, back in December when we were in distance learning. The schools had been in distance learning at that point for nearly 9 months. And although we reopened to our most vulnerable students back in April, it wasn’t till August that we were able to gather all approximately 180 of our staff in one large space – with plenty of air flow, hand sanitizers and masks.
It was nice to see so many people in the same space and not on a screen. It finally felt like I was connecting with the organization and putting faces to the people’s names I regularly saw while processing payroll. Yet there was a moment that was to be expected. One of our teachers rightfully asked what we, the leadership team, was doing to ensure that they were safe. Were we doing everything we could and did we really need to open schools for in person instruction.
All of these were very valid questions that highlighted the fear that still permeates throughout. Yet, because the Governor established that public schools were expected to open for in person instruction, we were and are constrained. We had to open and face the challenges. In no way could we guarantee our staff that they would be one hundred percent safe, however we could do all that we knew to provide the materials to keep classrooms clean, provide air filters and testing for all.
Looking back, I am pretty sure one of my internal responses to the questions was simply – Dear Lord – with exasperation and a sigh and possibly an eye roll too. Because even in what could be thought of as regular circumstances, if it weren’t COVID, it could be an earthquake that could potentially cause harm at any one of our schools. Much like suffering, sadly there are just bad things that happen sometimes. And as the school leaders, we take the information that we have at hand and make the best choices to create a safe a caring place for our students.
And maybe that in and of itself is prayer. Being able to share our collective concerns and fears. Confessing that we may not have all the answers yet we would continue to seek them and do everything we could. And for now, it means that we open our doors so that our young people are able to engage again, be in the same room as their peers, hopefully listen to their teachers and expand their minds.
The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. I like to think of that as active prayer. Bringing to life our prayer for safety. Doing what we can to keep our staff safe. It can be powerful and effective.
Prayer comes in many forms and this week it made me think of my actions as my prayers. The actions portion came from the Gospel. The last piece of the journey. Jesus tells John “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” Deed of power – doing something good in faith. If we live our faith actively and do for others what is righteous and caring, are we not then evoking the power of the lord? I would like to think that is what we are asked to do.
Prayers come in many shapes and forms. We are given the opportunity through our prayers and actions to welcome back to the fold those that might be lost. To create environments to help those who are suffering or sick. To create a space to house our children and teach them. It is important that my team and I do all that we can to create that space, so they too have the opportunity to learn and formulate their own thoughts, opinions, and questions.
It is because of them that we are willing to risk the suffering, so that hopefully the children of today and our future will not suffer and will not be afflicted by illness. It is my prayer indeed that we do right for them. So I call on all of us to actively live and be our prayers, to do good deeds in the power of the Lord. Amen.