Michael Ryan

Fort Worth Day of Prayer could be start to healing, restart to virtue, if we let it

Blowing the shofar during the National Day of Prayer

Fort Worth residents gathered for the National Day of Prayer at St. Andrews Episcopal Church. The shofar, a ram's horn used during Jewish religious ceremonies, was blown in honor of victims of the California synagogue shooting.
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Fort Worth residents gathered for the National Day of Prayer at St. Andrews Episcopal Church. The shofar, a ram's horn used during Jewish religious ceremonies, was blown in honor of victims of the California synagogue shooting.

America’s bloody, uncertain revolution. Our bloody, uncertain Civil War. The bloody, uncertain World Wars. The bloody, uncertain 1960s. The bloody, uncertain 9/11 attacks.

These are some of the times our country needed prayer the most.

But I might put today right under those.

While not nearly as bloody as those other pivot points, our nation appears nearly as uncertain today — with itself, oddly enough.

With frothy hatred periodically erupting in shootings at schools and houses of worship, ideological differences putting Americans at each other’s throats, and post-Mueller political divisions actually reaching new lows, it feels like we’re tearing asunder the very fabric of the country.

I can’t think of a better time since 9/11 to seek national healing. This Thursday’s National Day of Prayer could be a good start, if we let it.

At Fort Worth’s National Day of Prayer observance inside St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Thursday, the crowd was encouraged to reach out to someone nearby and pray for him or her. I reveled in the sight of a white male police officer praying for a black female, and the joy it brought them both.

Considering the several controversial interactions between white officers and black females here the past few years, it was a sight to behold.

Prayer doesn’t change anything, the pooh-poohers like to pontificate. I beg to differ. If nothing else, it changes the one doing the praying, especially when praying for others. Being prayed for is also fortifying. I’ve had strangers and casual acquaintances tell me they’ve prayed for me, and friends who’ve laid their hands on me in prayer. It’s humbling, and makes you want to live up to their hopes for you.

And truly, heaven only knows what else prayer is capable of.

Besides which, it sure can’t hurt to wish good things for others. And that includes the country.

In truth, the cure for what ails America may rest as much in civic renewal, but spiritual renewal can be foundational to that. It certainly was for our nation’s Founders, who made no bones in the Declaration of Independence about their “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”

What followed that phrase should be no less of an inspiration today: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Are we pledging to each other our “Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”? Are we even capable of it?

And what happens to the country if we’re not? Since we’re not a near-homogeneous people as are many nations, our mutual pledge to each other is all that binds us.

Writer and speaker Os Guinness argues that freedom must be won, then structured, then sustained — with the sustainability depending largely on the character of the citizenry. The key to keeping a republic, he says, is what he calls the “Golden Triangle of Freedom”: the fact that freedom requires virtue; which in turn requires faith; which in turn requires freedom.

What is virtue might be subject to some disagreement. I’d call it a voluntary adherence to high moral standards and behaviors. The website VirtuesForLife.com has a pretty good list of virtues. Reading through it, I thought it might be good to tattoo some of them on our leaders in Washington, D.C. Especially “humility” and “graciousness.” The way they are treating each other sets a horrid example and their lust for unending power has put the nation on a dangerous course.

This has to be considered our doing, as we sent these people to represent us. We have to undo it, or surely it will be our undoing. Ominously, Guinness’ 2012 book is titled “A Free People’s Suicide.”

Regarding Guinness’ Golden Triangle of freedom, virtue and faith: We’ve got the freedom part down pretty good. As for faith — well, people and matters of faith don’t fare too well in today’s culture, sad to say.

And how do you suppose we’re doing as a nation with regard to virtue? I’d say OK, but only that. And I’m not optimistic about the trend. Especially on that rare occasion I’ve been able to horrify myself with a bit of late-afternoon television programming, which features various TV “judges” presiding over innumerable childish disputes, as well as various women’s searches for their children’s often slippery biological fathers. Virtuous? Not so much.

Of course, virtue alone can’t be relied on for a free people’s leadership. That’s where the constraint of a Constitution and the rule of law come in.

Still, without virtue, no free nation has a prayer for long.

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