When you think about political resistance, what comes to mind? For me I think of the ‘RESIST’ poster that was hung from a crane behind the White House after Trump’s election, and the marches and protests that went on around the country in response. I think of Bonhoeffer and the plot against Hitler, of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement in America, of Gandhi’s resistance against British rule in India. I think of action, of demonstration, of calling out injustice loudly and clearly.
What I don’t tend to think about is prayer.
But Bonhoeffer saw prayer as the most fundamental element of his political resistance. Before we can resist the wrong we see in the world, we need to ground ourselves in what is right. We need to commune with the divine light in order to represent that light to the world, and to nourish ourselves in order to act in a sustainable and loving way. We see so much burn-out and toxicity within activism today. Conflict and tension are at the heart of our politics today, and I believe it is only through a healthy spirituality and a grounding in prayer that we can be loving in our politics, be united in our striving for justice, and be honest about the part we have played in the broken society we’re trying to heal.
This works in three ways. First, through prayer we remind ourselves what we are working for – a world where God’s kingdom may come, and God’s will may be done. The glimpses we get in prayer of divine love set the standard for all our interactions with those around us.
Second, through confession, we face the darkness within ourselves before condemning the darkness out there in the world. Being honest about our own shortcomings can help us to be compassionate in our protesting, both to those whose actions we oppose, and to ourselves, by remembering that though we are limited we are not alone in our striving for justice, and we can only do what small part we are able. The rest is up to God.
And finally, prayer provides comfort. We can easily become overwhelmed in the face of the injustice in our world, but spending time with the God of all comfort can give us the hope and strength we need to continue the work of cultivating a fairer, kinder, more generous world.
I love these words from Bonhoeffer’s prayer for fellow prisoners, which sum this up well:
O God, early in the morning I cry to you,
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you.
I cannot do this alone;
In me there is darkness, but with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring
Your name be praised.
Written by Emma Temple, North East Regional Development Worker for SCM.