A woman on her knees sobbed on the lawn of the National Mall in Washington D.C. this past Saturday. Next to her sat another woman in a wheelchair silently looking out toward the fountain of the World War II Memorial. Nearby, others blew ram-horn trumpets with long, deep, mournful tunes, and still others quietly lifted their hands to the sky in surrender and expectation. People were spread out all over the landscaped park--some alone, some in small groups--so that the sea of 60,000 plus people that came for a prayer walk from the Lincoln Memorial to The Capitol seemed peaceful and never congested. There was a reverent and sober mood, but the atmosphere was also rich with hope and joy.
This, of course, is not my usual prayer scene. In fact, I think the primary way we should engage in dialogue with our Maker, and our main mode of prayer on a daily basis, should actually be prayer in secret. Prayer when no one is looking, prayer when it feels mundane and unglamorous and when no human praise can be gained.
But I also believe there is Biblical precedent for corporate prayer. Prayer that is communal, visible, larger than the secret place. We see calls to sacred assemblies for fasting, prayer, repentance, and worship all throughout the Bible.
I have been praying personally for a very long time for our country, for those hurting or suffering, for those who feel lost, for the oppressed, for the church, for things that are hidden to be brought into light, for things that are not right to be made right, for justice, for healing, for truth to reign, for protection against being deceived, for our leaders. I pray for President Trump just as I prayed for President Obama.
When I got the invite to be a part of the prayer walk on the Mall, I wanted to make sure that it was indeed a prayer initiative and not a political rally. When I went to the website of the organizers, I was glad to see that they felt the same way. This was about God, not politics. Participants were asked to NOT wear or wield any political paraphernalia. Participants were asked TO wear masks, to honor others, to not be loud or aggressive or unruly, but to humbly and peacefully gather and pray for America. The idea was to walk the two-mile stretch, stopping at points along the way to pray for specific things at those places.
Still, I wanted to take time to pray about this invitation. I wanted to know God’s heart on whether He would have me go. There was much to consider. Wouldn’t prayers from home be effective? Why gather? Many would say it was unloving to go to such a gathering because of the pandemic. I understand that. I wear a mask in public, especially indoor places, more so to honor and show love to others than to protect myself. This is not a hard decision.
I also think we need to be careful, because we could easily make a religion out of the human understanding or definition of love. Many would say that Jesus was unloving when he let Lazarus lie in the tomb for three days, taking too long to get there after His friends and followers begged Him to come quickly. That could have seemed calloused or unloving, but Jesus was following another set of orders that was higher than even the compassion of the human heart. As Christians, our answer needs to be to God and God first. When He says go, I say, “yes Sir,” regardless of how it will seem to my fellow humans. This is a hard thing for my tender heart that wants to only show love, or what I imagine is love, or what will be perceived as love.
But I sensed the Holy Spirit asking me and leading me to go, and my answer had to be yes.
On my heart especially was to do the following things: repent at our nation's capital for the sins against African Americans in this country over the past 400 years and to cry out for forgiveness and true racial healing and justice, repent for the legalized slaughter of over 60 million babies in the womb and to cry out for a national turning of hearts to value life over convenience, repent for how the church has often misrepresented Jesus and to cry out for corruption to be exposed and made right, repent for idolatry and hypocrisy in my own life and to cry out to return to my First Love… to name a few.
Of course I was a little concerned that the tensions in our country right now could manifest at an event like this in unseemly or frightful ways, but the morning that I left for D.C. God gave me the Word, “Be strong and very courageous and do the thing.” I don’t know why He asked me to go, I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of the significance of corporate gatherings or of going to an actual place to pray, but I do know He gave me great peace and provided for me every step of the way.
When we walked the streets of D.C. on Saturday, the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable. The city that day felt like a thin place—by that I mean an atmosphere where heaven feels close. Peace, joy, hope, and honor permeated the air. I saw a cross-cultural swath of the Church represented: Amish and Mennonites, Messianic Jews with Yemenite shofars, long-haired hippie types with Jesus-is-the-Way shirts, charismatic African Americans bringing the house down in worship and prayer on one section of the lawn, rappers belting out verse, elderly saints—some with walkers or wheelchairs—diligently making the trek. I saw whole families on their knees at different spots, Filippino Americans weeping at the World War II Memorial crying out, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Groups broke out in prayer together in various spots.
Throughout the walk, volunteers passed out masks, hand sanitizer, and targeted prayer points to remind people to be safe and stay focused on what this was about. There were a few times when a handful of people tried to lead the crowd in chants that got off point and tried to rally around politics, but those quickly trailed off and died down as the majority would not join in and wanted to focus only on Jesus.
The walk started at the Lincoln Memorial. Here, before the monument of a national father who worked hard to unify a country and to make right the brutal wrongs of slavery, we humbled ourselves and repented of our sins and the sins of our fathers. Here, we laid the foundation for the entire prayer walk and recognized that we need God, His forgiveness and healing more than ever.
Other prayer points throughout the walk included praying wisdom for our leaders, praying for solutions to the coronavirus pandemic, praying for families and those suffering, praying over our police and military—both for reform where it is needed and for protection and honor where it is due, praying for truth and freedom to reign, praying for an end to the legalized slaughter of babies. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we were asked to pray for compassion, kindness, and justice for the races, specifically our black brothers and sisters. As this was a big issue on my heart, I wanted to linger a while here. My friend and I got down on that grass and repented of white-against-black sins throughout the ages, crying out for forgiveness. We asked God to uproot prejudices inside any of us and to heal the deep wounds and national fractures as only He can. We pleaded for justice for our fellow countrymen, and mercy on us all. Our ask on that lawn was that God would raise up white leaders to lead a movement of humble, national repentance, and that He would raise up African American brothers and sisters who would lead a movement of forgiveness. We asked for wisdom.
We prayed for revival in our land. Not the flashy, emotional, burn-for-a-moment-then-pucker-out kind, but the kind that changes historical eras. The kind that causes radical shifts in the hearts and lives of a nation. I could see it...I could feel the rumblings even as we prayed. I will forever believe in and champion the power of prayer, I have witnessed too much firsthand in my own life to think otherwise.
But there are many who criticize or devalue prayer. I have seen people make fast assumptions about this event and the people involved based on a single picture or clip or name. I cannot repeat the words against the participants that I have read on Twitter or in comments under an article about it—they are too brutal. At their most decent, they have been basically death wishes in various forms, calling those in attendance racist, anti-justice bigots, white nationalists, Pharisees, and every other insult you can think of. I am not sure how these conclusions were drawn. It grieves me deeply, but I am never promised by God that I will be understood. My sincere desire is to be an ally in this hour for racial healing and justice, having listened to countless stories of black experience, read literature and watched movies to gain understanding, participated in prayer initiatives and have spoken against injustice, wanting truly to come alongside my fellow Americans of color. And yet somehow because I attended a prayer march for our nation I have been counted among those who are racist. I refuse to buy into the lie that you have to choose between support for black Americans and a love of this country, flawed as she most certainly is. Or between support for racial restoration and justice versus support for the unborn—I believe they are both very much on God’s heart.
We mostly walked or rode scooters during our time in D.C., but there were a few times that because of a time squeeze or because of rain we utilized Uber. It was such a joy to talk to the drivers—one was from Afghanistan who fled here with his siblings when he was nine because the Soviet Union was bombing his country, and one was from Ethiopia who just recently had received her U.S. citizenship and talked passionately about how much she loves this country. “Here, you can pursue the life you want. Here, you can do what you want and do what you dream, if you work for it. This is my country now.” We also got to have a surprise dinner with two Egyptians who were part of the Coptic Orthodox Church. One of them stated how he felt like most people are on the same page more than the news wants us to think, that when he talks to people on the streets, they don’t want to be divided into all of these categories that a strong narrative is trying to box us into: You’re either this or that, but you can’t be a little of both or neither. You can’t be nuanced in any way.
After the prayer march was over and my friend and I were exploring the city, what I experienced on the streets of D.C. was exactly what my new Egyptian friend described: a focus on what unifies us, even in the midst of different political stances (made known by t-shirts, ball caps, masks), different skin colors, different sexes, different ages. People seemed glad to be humans, people seemed to give space for other opinions to be expressed, people seemed to show honor and kindness. I know this is not the norm and that there are serious problems, but I feel like there was a grace over the three days we were in the city, giving me a picture of what we all can be like. This is the America I love, this is the America I dream of, this is the America I want to fight for.
And our greatest weapon in this fight for our nation—our “atomic bomb” against injustice, hate, division, and blindness—is fasting and prayer. I don’t regret my decision to be involved in this event. My job wasn’t to judge the hearts of every participant or make sure they were aligned in every way with what was on my heart. My job was to pray. And I will continue to do so in my private spaces.
If you believe in the power of prayer, will you join me?