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Monique Ruffin Headshot

Why Pray?

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As a young child, I was taught to pray by my Christian grandmother. Growing up in the South as the daughter of a minister, my grandmother faced many unbearable injustices associated with racism. Prayer and religion were the tools that helped her cope with her pain. I'm grateful that she taught me to pray, and yet I have learned that the prayer life of my grandmother is not what works for me today. Why? God bless my grandmother and her unconditional love for me, but with all her praying, I never saw her change. She seemed to be waiting for God to come down from heaven to save her and her family. This frustrated me and made me question the value of what she'd taught me.

Today, as we look at the faces of the 27 innocent souls who were gunned down by a person who may have been mentally ill, I feel the same type of frustration I felt all those years ago. I hear and see calls to prayer all over the television and social media, but I wonder what it all really means. Will our prayers lead to some type of change? What are we praying for? Who are we praying to? For me, my prayer is a clear call for me to find something deep within myself that would challenge me to be different in some way. For me, gone are the days of praying for a god out there to come and rescue me from the calamities of my life; rather, I pray for inspiration to rise up within me, to propel me into responsibility, accountability and action toward change.

On the day of the shooting, I was deeply struck by fear and horror. Each day I, too, drop off my 5-year-old son at school, believing he is safe in the care of his loving teacher. It is deeply unimaginable and soul-wrenching to consider what the families of these children and teachers will be experiencing in the days, months and years that flow from this madness. It is even more devastating to know that we have had several mass killings committed by mentally ill people in the past years, and we have not asked ourselves what can we do stop this. Have we prayed to awaken within ourselves a way to change how we service the mentally ill? Have we done anything about the access to guns in this nation?

I know that I have often swallowed my sadness and rage when I hear stories of gun violence; I have learned to push down the terror and look the other way. As an African-American woman, I have experienced such events up close; I have cried in silence but soon resumed my normal life, because I didn't have the time or energy to make a difference. But today I must ask myself where such violence lives within me. What can I do to shift the spirit of indifference that I allow to arise when I hear stories of people being gunned down by the mentally ill?

I am grateful for my grandmother's lessons in prayer. I finally understand that the answers to the prayers come from within me rather than to me. Ultimately, we are the answer to our prayers. Today I have several prayers within my heart. Two are for the families of Newtown, Conn., whose babies and loved ones have been lost. I pray that they will come to know, over time, an aspect of themselves that will help them continue to live and thrive in the days and years to come. And I pray that the grief will not harden their hearts but open them to deeper, more profound experiences of love and life. Two of the prayers are for myself. I pray that I will discover within myself how I contribute to yet another experience of devastating violence in this nation. And I pray to learn how I might begin to create profound experiences of peace and loving community. Finally, I pray that we may each discover unique paths toward forgiveness and compassion, thereby birthing a transformation so exquisite that we turn the current darkness into the brightest light ever shone.