There was a shooting in Arizona today. This in itself would make the news under the right circumstances, but when the shooting happened at a town hall and one of the wounded was Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the event became national headline news. CNN, NPR, and Reuters all initially reported that Representative Giffords was dead from a gunshot wound but retracted when reports came out that she was still alive. Of course, people on the Internet tweeted this out before the news outlets could correct their error (including me), showing how quickly news moves in the information age.
Don’t believe me on that? There’s already a Wikipedia article on the shooting, and the list of premature obituaries has been updated to add her premature death.
However, six people were killed in the shooting, including a federal judge, one of Giffords’ aides, and a nine-year-old girl who had just gotten elected to student council at her school. There is a lot of supposed prayer going on for those lost and their families, which I notice primarily when people die. People don’t say “Keep them in your thoughts and prayers” as often as they say “Keep them in your prayers”, although the intent is sometimes the same. Out of all the statements I’ve read today, not a single one included a mention of thoughts as separate from prayers. Saying you’ll keep the affected people in your thoughts sometimes sounds less meaningful when speaking to someone who does pray, and when someone asks to pray for someone or something during a hard time, saying that you don’t pray sounds, well, harsh. It may have to be said at some point, but not when the affected person is already sad. I’ve made this mistake several times to people who take it personally. So what does one say in this situation?
2 replies on “The Arizona shooting and prayer”
This post reminded me of this line from Hamlet:
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
It would be very nice if people did say thoughts and prayers more often than just prayers. With thoughtless prayer, you can package a feeling and send the problem off to a deity. You’ve learned nothing from what happened, but you feel better. If you actually meditate on the root cause of this tragedy, (which to me is using force to try to impose your will on other people) and take a lesson to be calmer, more tolerant and to watch for signs of violence in yourself, then you can make your peace with it and send the negative emotions off whether you do it with prayer or writing or just taking a deep breath.
I usually say: “I know; my heart is with them” or something to that effect. The “I know” meaning I understand the sentiment you’re trying to convey in praying for them and I feel the same way, just not focused on a deity.
@LeoFair I get the same impression from thoughtless prayer. It’s far too easy to say “And please $DEITY, look over this and this and this,” which is what I remember so much of in my church days. We as a people really need to learn to sit down and think about the cause and learn from it, and that’s something prayer doesn’t provide.