How long, O Lord? How long?
As Maine now joins the devastatingly long line of places that have suffered a mass shooting incident, we at the Maine Council of Churches lift our voices with the psalmist to lament, “How long, O Lord? How long?” How long must this scourge of gun violence destroy lives and tear at the fabric of beloved community? And we pray with and for all who are mourning the loss of loved ones in the wake of last night’s massacre in Lewiston. We pray for all those who were wounded and are suffering, and we pray for those who must respond to the devastation: first responders, medical caregivers, chaplains, clergy, funeral directors, crime scene technicians, law enforcement personnel, trauma therapists, and so many others who are now beginning the long and arduous work of comfort, healing, and repair.
BREAKING NEWS: Several of our member denominations are organizing a statewide online prayer vigil for tonight, Thursday, October 26, at 5:30pm. As details become available, we will post them on our website, Facebook and Instagram. Please join us and let other folks know about this opportunity to come together in prayer tonight.
Yet even as we pray, we know that “thoughts and prayers are not enough.” They are inadequate if not accompanied by efforts to prevent future violence. As Bible scholar Marcus Borg put it, “Compassion without justice can mean caring for victims while quietly acquiescing to a system that creates even more victims.” Russell P. Johnson, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Religious Studies program at the University of Chicago Divinity School rightly states: “The language of “thoughts and prayers” is appropriate in the wake of unpreventable tragic events like [avalanches, hurricanes, tornadoes]. After a mass shooting, however, in a country where 77% of mass shooting perpetrators acquired their guns legally and yet no substantive gun control legislation is being passed, to characterize the shooting as an unpreventable tragedy is deeply deceptive. Objections to “thoughts and prayers” are not against condolences or against religion, but against treating an event like this as isolated and inevitable. We need to counter-narrate these shootings not as senseless tragedies but as part and parcel of American gun culture.”
So we pray. But we must also act. The bible is clear about our call: to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Micah 4:3) even as we comfort all who mourn and provide for those who mourn a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Isaiah 61) When we take these necessary actions, “Violence shall no more be heard in our land, devastation or destruction within our borders; we shall call our walls Salvation, and our gates Praise.” (Isaiah 60)
To support your prayers and your actions, we at MCC provide a resource page on our website: Faith-based resources for responding to gun violence. On our YouTube channel, you can watch a a sermon from the National Gun Violence Sabbath. We urge you to visit the website of our trusted partner organization, The Maine Gun Safety Coalition where you can learn more about how to advocate for sensible gun safety legislation like universal background checks, red flag laws, and closing loopholes in gun sales laws. And we encourage you to visit these national websites of our member denominations to find more faith-based resources for prayer and action in response to gun violence:
(Based on my firsthand experience with the Sandy Hook shooting, I urge you to refrain from sending stuffed animals to Lewiston. While it is many folks’ first instinct to express love and concern, especially for the children affected, with a warm, cuddly toy, towns who have experienced a mass shooting quickly become overwhelmed with the flood of such unsolicited donations and are forced to divert valuable time, energy and money to store them in trucks and warehouses. So please, do NOT “act” by sending stuffed animals and teddy bears.)
So, beloved, let us pray and then let us act:
A Prayer for Maine on October 26, 2023
Loving God, in our shock and confusion, in our grief and despair, in our sense of helplessness in the face of violence, we turn to you.
For the families of those who have been killed and injured, we pray.
For the shooter and his family—help us to pray, Lord.
For the communities that have been traumatized and are struggling with fear, anger, and grief, we pray.
For the churches and first responders striving to be your light in a darkness that is beyond our comprehension, we pray.
In the face of hatred and fear, may we claim love.
Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.
Yet even as we lift these prayers to you, we recognize they are not enough. So we also pray: Mobilize us, God. Stir something deep within that empowers us to show up, stand up, and speak up. Give us words to speak truth to power. Show us how to use our hands, our feet, our minds, voices, and hearts because we know that you require much from us today and in the days ahead. Help us to trust that you will provide what we need to build a world as your love would have it, where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
May it be so.
Prayer adapted from two sources: the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice and from a prayer by Aimee Cox of Christ United Methodist Church.