"Prayer" and "public" are words that, when put together, are off-putting or intimidating to some and agitating to others. But "public" and "prayer" put together can also lead to beautiful moments of hope, connection, and reconciliaiton. We have identified five ways we all can be of public service through practices of prayer. In looking at our list, perhaps you can think of more:
Prayerfully respond to public servants.
The other day I watched from my car as a pedestrian reacted to an ambulance zooming by. When he heard the ambulance coming, he took a few steps away from the curb, dropped to one knee and crossed himself as in an attitude of prayer. In doing so, he created reverential space. The ambulance was not an annoyance, it (and the people within) was something to be respected and cared for. How would the experience driving or riding in an ambulance be altered if it were done in a bubble of reverential space?
A benefit of prayer is mindfulness—we become more mindful of others as we prayerfully consider their circumstances. I recently got my driver's license renewed. My visit to the DMV office was probably much like many of yours: interesting. It came complete with an angry client vocally blasting a clerk and supervisor while at the counter. I prayed I might have a better experience. So when I stepped to the counter and got to speak with a clerk, I was actually looking for ways to make our interaction a good experience. It was a good experience! I learned about the clerk's beloved dog, that we were both going to a baseball game later, and that burgers topped with eggs are fantastic. I know it won't always work out that way, but prayerfully approaching a rather mundane situation created a sense of mindfulness regarding the person I was interacting with.
Prayerfully hiking and picking up trash.
We like nature. We like beautiful spaces. Many of us find a sense of connection to the Divine in nature. Many of us purposefully take hikes in nature as a prayerful act of appreciation for our creator and the creation. The next time you adventure in nature for a sense of holy connection, look for ways of beautifying the space around you by picking up trash and debris. In so doing, others will appreciate your prayer time, too.
Prayer walking in your neighborhood.
What is a prayer walk? In its simplest form, it's a walk through the neighborhood actively looking for things to pray about. Sometimes it leads participants to prayers of thanks for the beauty of the neighborhood, or it can lead to pausing for prayer outside the house of an ill neighbor.
Prayer walking is an act of public service because it encourages connection. It helps to build relationship—especially when participants pause to speak with their neighbors. Asking a neighbor "is there any way I can pray for you?" quickly leads to moments of vulnerability, authenticity, and feelings of trust.
Prayerfully reclaiming broken spaces.
There is a group in Durham, North Carolina, that has this down. One of the ways the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham responds to acts of violence is by hosting prayer vigils at or near the sites where violent acts occurred. The vigils reclaim spaces marked by darkness as places for community and healing. Victims' loved ones have remarked that these vigils offer peace in recognition of the victims—there is relief in knowing that others care.
Other groups offer similar activities. Perhaps there is a group near you. If not, perhaps a group needs to be organized.
Send prayerful notes of appreciation to public servants.
Prayer notes tend to come in two varieties. The first says, "I don't like what you're doing. I'll pray for you." We want to encourage the second variety, which says something along the lines of: "Your efforts are appreciated. I'm praying for you. Is there a specific way I could pray for you?"
Send notes like this to public officials, officers… really, anyone! The notes may not garner a response, but they won't be unnoticed. Oh, and don't forget to spend some time praying for those you write, it will (again) help to create a mindset of openness and mindfulness.
Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan serves as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.