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"Just Pray and Have Faith" -- A Reflection from Bishop Beckwith

The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark

“Just pray and have faith.”

That was the response of a Catholic priest to his congregation after their church burned down, as reported in a newspaper article years ago. I knew the priest and I knew the church – and I thought his congregation would want to hear something more than a theological bromide in a time of crisis. I know I did. I wanted to hear – and I imagined his parishioners wanted to hear, words related to an action plan -- and strategies for finding interim worship space, securing insurance payments and raising money.

In the twenty-five years since that church fire, I have come back to the priest’s words many times. Instead of dismissing them as ‘holy speak’ – which are the biblical and theological sound bites preachers use when they don’t know what else to say; I now hear them as a reflection of deep wisdom and trust. To ‘just pray and have faith’ was not, in fact, going to build them a new church – but ‘to just pray and have faith’ is the place where we all need to start. Especially in times of crisis.

The discipline to pray and faith gets us beneath sound bites and bromides that are tossed out to mask anxiety and fear. The discipline to pray and have faith can bring us beyond the protective confines of the ego to the open space of the soul – that place where we can best discover God’s trust and wisdom, abundance and blessing. The place where we can make plans for our future in light of God’s promise

It is not always easy to do. Especially in times of crisis -- which seems to be where we are today. The financial markets have gone haywire, perhaps as a prelude to an implosion. Budgets and businesses are fragile – as are the psyches that have to deal with them. Many people are finding that their financial and professional lives are going down in flames, and wonder what might be next.

The quadrennial run-up to the election seems to have produced more adrenaline in voters than any I can remember. The vitriol – which has been fired in from both candidates’ camps, has generated a fight/flight response in legions people – so they might decide their vote on the basis of resentment rather than choice. Some say the culture wars have engaged again – with conservatives dug into the ramparts of moral smugness and liberals planted on the fortification of intellectual arrogance (as if conservatives cannot be intellectual and liberals cannot be moral). And plans are fashioned; strategies are conceived – not so much to build, but to discredit.

And on and on it goes.

Jesus lived in a world fraught with crisis. The Jews struggled to cope with financial penury and the onerous weight of Roman rule. Jesus had to deal with no end of first century people who were unwilling or unable to move past the ego to the soul – either because they saw him as a magician rather than a Messiah; or because they were clueless about the deep wisdom and power to which he had access; or because they did understand his power and resented it – or were so threatened by that power that they wanted to nail him to a tree.

Jesus was a genius in responding to people who over-idealized him; or people who took everything he said for the benefit of humanity and could only hear him on the basis of their own immediate needs --or who were overly aggressive in responding to him. Jesus had many things to say to them all – brilliant, compassionate, confounding things; which in some ways boil down to some very deep wisdom: just pray and have faith.

In peace,

+Mark M. Beckwith