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Prayers of the People (11-20-11)

by Dominic Mishler Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 at 9:05 AM

A response to the police action at UC Davis. Published so late because I just discovered this site.

I finally read the letter to the President of UC Davis last night with its graphic description of the violence against students at the peaceful protest there. It was over an hour before the muscles around my stomach unclenched enough for me to sleep. This morning at mass, where the violence was never mentioned, the Prayers of the People (or the Faithful depending on where you go) which declared our prayers for all who work for justice, freedom, and peace and the just and proper use of God’s creation seemed a mockery.

The Church used to have a prayer, “forgive us the sins done in our names.” I have no idea why they got rid of that prayer. To my mostly privileged mind, stubbornly unaware of its privilege, getting rid of this prayer made sense. How can we be held responsible for events and actions we have no control over? But when I saw the pictures of the brutality at Davis, and felt the guilt and rage that came from those pictures, I understood the meaning of that prayer. That brutality was done in the name of everyone who was not there. I realized today in mass that this prayer was not meaningless, was not a cop out. Today I understood that this prayer was an acknowledgement that violence and evil and blasphemy of every religion has been done by people claiming to act for us. It is an acknowledgement that as Christians we abhor what those in earthly authority do in the name of their people.

We can acknowledge to God and ourselves that we do know the difference between right and wrong, no matter who commits the acts we oppose and no matter what their reasons. If we pray, “forgive us the wrongs done in our name at UC Davis,” we are not saying we condone. The opposite. We are saying that we know it is wrong, we are saying that we know it is against the laws of God and human beings. We ask forgiveness for ourselves for not being able to be there with those injured. When we say this prayer we are telling God that this disgusting act of violence was not done for us with our knowledge or consent. Although the administration and the police of Davis did not act in the name of God, they still acted in the name of public order and safety. The forgiveness we ask for is forgiveness for letting believe they act in our names.

Of course we don’t just pray for ourselves. We pray for the victims, for their physical and emotional recovery. We pray for the safety of all those risking their well-being at peaceful public protests. We pray for the students, staff, faculty, and administration of all campuses working toward a peaceful and healthy UC system. And we pray for those who are not. We pray that such violent and unnecessary abuses of power will not happen again, despite evidence that they probably will. We give these prayers in hope that those who do work for freedom, justice, and peace really will find a just and proper use for this creation.

A UC graduate.
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