When the Church of England twitter account reacted to news that Richard Dawkins had had a mild stroke by tweeting “Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family”, the tweet’s author didn’t expect the ensuing storm of protest, along with cheers from those who thought it a hilarious thing for them to have done.
Anxious to dispell confusion, cofecomms.tumblr.com has issued an admirably clear explanation of why the tweet was sent, what it means to pray for people and why Christians might announce that they’re doing so, Rev. Arun Arora pointing readers to a helpful description of prayer by the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford.
“Prayer is not just something done in church,” Bishop Stephen Cottrell wrote on justpray.uk, explaining that: “It is living life in a relationship with God. When we pray, there are millions of Christian people all around the world also praying; daily in churches, in their own homes, in their cars, at work. You might not hear them. You might feel very alone in your prayer; but you are not alone.
“There is no such thing as private prayer because when we pray we are caught up in something much bigger than ourselves. There is no ‘my’ prayer. It is, as the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer states, ‘our’.”
Explaining that “prayer is for everyone”, Rev Arora counters suggestions that Christians only pray for other Christians by pointing out that Christians pray for all kinds of people: “They pray for their friends and families. They pray for their community. They pray for the Government (of whatever persuasion). They pray for terrorists, kidnappers, hostage takers. They pray for criminals as well as giving thanks for saints.
“Poets write poetry, musicians play music, Christians pray,” he writes, “And they love.”
Jesus was pretty clear about this, Rev. Arora says, citing his call even to pray for those who persecute us, and admonition “if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?”
In any case, Professor Dawkins shouldn’t simply be classed as a persecutor – “there is a danger,” Rev Arora cautions, “of reducing him to a one-trick pony”; for all his opposition to religion, he publicly backed the Church of England when its “Lord’s Prayer’ advert was banned by UK cinemas last year. Stressing the need to think beyond binary terms and to maintain human links regardless of what we believe, the Anglican cleric ends his explanation by saying, “I wish Professor Dawkins well. I hope he makes swift and full recovery and wish him the best of health. I will pray for him too. It is the very least I can do.”
The danger of crudely classifying people as simple friends or foes was shown well last weekend as news broke of the death of US Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia. Stephen Carter of bloombergview.com described how his Twitter feed began to fill with hate. “Not disagreement or disrespect,” he wrote, “actual hate. He was an ignorant waste of flesh, wrote one young fool. His death was the best news in decades, cheered another.”
Those so cheering would do well to read Irin Carmon’s February 13 washingtonpost.com piece about the late judge, who shared a long-standing and profound friendship with his regular adversary Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the two regularly spending New Year’s Eves and holidays together.
“If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake,” the Ginsburg biographer quotes Scalia as saying, with Ginsburg saying that Scalia was such that “you can’t help but say, ‘I’m glad that he’s my friend or he’s my colleague’”.