On a Sunday when the Oklahoma tornadoes had been dominating the daily news, I was asked to offer the morning prayer at my church. Traditionally, this prayer includes the church’s intercessions for the well being of the world and requests for God’s abiding presence in all that takes place in life.
Since my church stands in the tradition of extemporaneous prayer, it was my responsibility to decide what we as a body of faithful but uncertain people would want to say to God. At such a time, I remember the comment of one of my neighbors, a retired Episcopal priest, who told me that his church “worships its theology—it converts what it believes into the language of prayer, which it then offers to God.”
This was where I would have to start my preparation: by asking what is God’s role in the storms, droughts, and wild fires spread across so much of our country. Two themes in Scripture came to mind: the world as a beautiful garden in which God and people talk as friends in the cool of the day, and the world in which God is most fully present in violent storms that tear the world apart.
I live my life as a person of faith and as a person who honors scientific explanations of natural processes. Neither my religious nor my scientific persuasion allows me to assert that God has chosen to destroy Oklahoma and burn down California.
So what should I pray? Here’s what I said.
Eternal God, our faith is built on the confession that you are creator of heaven and earth. We live in the confidence that you intend to give us everything we need to enjoy life. On beautiful spring days when the weather is tranquil and markets are filled with newly harvested fruit and vegetables, it is easy to see your intentions for the world coming to their fulfillment.
Yet, the news is filled with reports of natural powers gone awry: in some places, violent storms of wind and rain, and in others drought and wild fires raging out of control. Fascinated by their power, we are terrified by what these natural forces can do.
God, because we know that your will for us is good, we cannot believe that you cause these things to happen. Today we stand with the prophet Elijah long ago, who endured earthquake, wind, and fire and then heard you speak in a still small voice.
Speak to us, we pray. Speak words that we can hear with the inner ear, words that help us live beyond our fears and into lives of solidarity with one another, courage, and confidence that you are with us no matter what happens.
Today we pray for people who are experiencing the momentous times of life:
- Entering into marriage,
- Giving birth to babies,
- Completing school terms and doing the work that sustains life,
- Responding to the crises of natural disaster, economic distress, and war,
- Facing illness,
- Passing from this life to the next.
By your Holy Spirit, be present with us in all of these moments. Fill us with joy; calm our fears; forgive us our sins; and renew our faith that through Jesus Christ nothing can separate us from your love. For it is through the same Jesus Christ that we pray. Amen.