Praying for Paul . . . Manafort, that is!

9 08 2018

ManafortThis is not a blog about HOW we pray, but FOR WHOM we pray.

If 30-plus years of ministry have taught me anything, it is that prayer is an intensely personal practice, faithfully carried out in all kinds of ways. So HOW one engages in this spiritual discipline varies with each ‘pray-er’; which is why today, I’m not so much concerned with the mechanics of prayer, as with the focus of our prayers.  And my focus, needs to change!

Every Saturday morning I take a 2-3 mile walk along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria. It is therapy for my soul, providing me with opportunities to be still, reflect, and become more mindful of the life that I am living.  I have the privilege of calling one of the most beautiful cities in our country “home,” and I try to take advantage of it whenever I can.  So at least once a week I enjoy the sounds of waves quietly lapping against the shore.  I enjoy the sight of geese gathering on floating logs, and the occasional heron standing in the marsh grass.  And enjoy taking note of the rising and falling tides, smiling every time the river overflows it’s banks, sending water into the streets and parks that hug the the shores of Old Town.

I move quickly and quietly in those pre-dawn hours, eagerly waiting for the sun to rise across the waters in Maryland, with no distractions from the peaceful beauty that surrounds me . . . no distractions, that is, until I get to Oronoco Park!

Oronoco Park is a small piece of green space situated right on the water, with the condominium complex on the western edge that houses one of Paul Manafort’s million dollar homes.  And for me it is a terrible distraction!  Because week after week, his building reminds me how inadequate my prayer life really is.

You see, as I pass, I always seem to hear, perhaps even feel, the Spirit’s urging to pray for Paul and his family.  But I’d really prefer not to!  And this is especially true these days.  As accounts of his trial are reported, I am deeply offended by his privileged arrogance, his reckless financial dealings, and his irresponsible work on behalf of the Presidential Campaign of Donald Trump.  And so the thought of having to say his name in prayer, leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.  The thought of having to devote even one second of my treasured Saturday mornings to this man sickens me; for I regard him not just as MY ‘enemy’, but an enemy of the American people.

Which is what takes me to the focus of my prayer life.

You see, Jesus makes it very clear that I am to pray . . . for my enemies.  And he pushes me, and all of us, to do that; because he knows how very hard it is.

It’s easy for me to pray for my new granddaughter because my love for her is so great.  It’s easy for me to pray for friends and parishioners who are struggling with illness, or grief, or a multitude of personal demons, because I care for those people.  It’s even easy for me to pray for justice: becoming allies with those on the margins of our society, and in the sentiments of Ghandi, “becoming the change I wish to see in the world.”  I love those people, and the causes that lead me to pray for them are ones that must be addressed by any and all who claim to be following Jesus.

But Paul Manafort?  Actually, anyone associated with Donald Trump?  Pray for them?  Really?

Unfortunately, the only theological concept that comes to my mind when I think of such people is karma.  Sometimes, it really is a bitch!  And the darkest corners of my shadow side too often long to witness the events that I have no doubt will eventually lead them to come to this realization on their own!

However because the call of Christ is to pray for my enemies, the focus of my prayer life MUST change. So what should it look like?

You see, for long time now, prayer for me has become less and less about asking God to miraculously intervene in the world, and more and more about my learning to tap into the power God has placed in ME for intervention in the world!  My prayer life no longer includes petitions to the heavens for protection when I travel, nor does it include requests for a parking place when I’m driving on the crowded streets of Washington, DC.  I no longer find such a simplistic approach to this spiritual practice helpful, meaningful, or theologically sound!

Rather, prayer is about my being continually conformed to the image of Christ in the world.  It’s about my being daily changed to reflect the image of Jesus and the heart of God, to those around me.  It’s about a growing mindfulness of the Spirit’s presence, that puts me in a place where I am better able to respond with Light to whatever it is that comes my way!  And whether I like it or not, I need to learn to do this when it involves those I love, AND when it involves my enemies.

When I pray for my Black brothers being wrongly shot by police; I put myself in their shoes, and allow myself to feel and experience a little of what they experience, so that a new perspective will emerge in my life, causing me to alter the way I live.  When I pray for the children who have been separated from their parents along our southern boarder; I strive to become better informed about immigration issues in our country so that I can at the very least, vote into office people who can change the way policies are implemented and enforced.  And when I pray for the people of Palestine, whose oppression is being minimized and marginalized in order to keep the attention of the world focused on the fears and the frustrations of the Israelis; I strive to spend more time with both my Jewish and my Palestinian neighbors, so that unity might be modeled, and then shared with others.

So perhaps this how I am to pray for Paul . . . and the rest of my enemies.  Perhaps I have to put myself in their shoes, and instead of getting angry, try to better understand what has caused them to become the people they are today.  Perhaps, without in any way excusing or condoning their behavior, I have to spend time with, and befriend their followers, and realize that they too are products of a broken world, and work a little harder to show them the transforming love of Jesus.  Perhaps I need to consider that even privilege is a form of oppression that can have disempowering consequences, and thus requires a certain amount of grace.

In two days I will once again take my morning walk along the Potomac, and as I do I will likely become distracted . . .  again . . . not by Paul Manafort’s condo, but by the Holy Spirit.  And she will be calling me to pray for an enemy: for one who offends my self-righteous expressions of dignity and integrity, and who violates my vain sense of Christian faithfulness and obedience.  She will remind me of what a dear colleague in my very first congregation once told me, “that we’re all the same height at the foot of the cross”; and that as James Adams once said, “there is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.”  And she will push me out of my comfort zone, so that I might learn what it means to have just a little more compassion for ALL people, and not just the ones I like!

So, what will I do?  How will I respond the Spirit’s ‘meddling’ in my life?

Well, I’ll let you know!  But if this Saturday morning you see me stop walking at Oronoco Park, don’t be surprised!  I’ll be praying.  And I’ll be praying for Paul!


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2 responses

9 08 2018
Jenny Rake-Marona

Beautiful, Bob. Thanks for this meditation.
I do believe, with you, that the power of prayer is to transform the pray-er. And that this is the beginning of transforming the world – or participating in the
kin-dom of the divine. It sure does seem like this is what we each – and the world needs more of – as we also strive to act on what we know of God’s call to justice love…..

For me, one of the most beneficial practices I have ever learned is the Metta – or loving-kindness meditation – where one simply holds in awareness the “wish” that we and those in our awareness be happy, healthy, peaceful, free from suffering. The practice asks us to hold specific people in mind, including ourselves, those we love, those we kind of “brush up against” but don’t really know in our daily lives, and those we find difficult. So much like (just the same as )loving and praying for our enemies. It’s hard practice. But helps make space for the simple truth that everyone needs kindness and wants to be happy. This is the beginning of real peace – in us – and in the world.

The Ignation Examen helps me, too – a chance at the end of the day to notice where I have been aware of God – of Divine, loving activity in the world – and where I have not seen it; where I have had my eyes or mind or heart closed off to it. Sometimes where I notice in myself or others the absence of loving-kindness – this is another way of praying ourselves into a kind of transformed way of being in the world – and so, creating deepening peace…….

thanks so much for your thoughtfulness and willingness to share your spiritual journey. I appreciate it very much!

May you be peaceful,
May you be happy,
May you be well,
May you be safe,
May you be free from suffering.

Jenny

9 08 2018
Bob Melone

Thanks for your response Jenny. If you and your family are ever in the area I hope you would let me know. Peace friend!

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