Praying the news

When we strive to see others as God sees them, we find that it is indeed possible to resist the pull of despair and disgust and to engage with the news in a thoughtful, healing way.

Following the news can feel pretty grim these days. Each day, there seems to be further news of power abused, governments run amok, and partisan polarization becoming increasingly entrenched around the world. I’ve heard some friends say that they simply don’t tune in anymore – and having closed my computer in despair on more than one occasion, I can relate to that sentiment.

Yet it seems to me that the world needs citizens who are more engaged, not less. Is it possible to follow current events in a productive way, without being consumed by them?

An experience I once had gave me a new perspective on what it means to not just follow the news as a passive consumer, but actively “pray the news.” By this I mean bringing my prayers to bear on the news, and allowing God, the infinitely loving divine intelligence, to guide my response.

I was deeply concerned about an upcoming election. One of the candidates not only didn’t align with my political ideals, but also appeared to have significant moral shortcomings. Each day I became more incensed and aghast at the prospect of this individual winning the election. While it’s important not to be complacent in the face of wrongdoing, I was uncomfortable with the extent to which hatred and disgust were dominating my thinking on a daily basis.

As I’m accustomed to doing whenever I feel afraid or uneasy, I decided to pray. I wasn’t pleading with God to change the circumstances or this candidate, but rather seeking peace in my own thoughts and approach to the election. Almost as soon as I began to pray, this thought came to me clearly: “You need to pray for [that particular candidate].”

Not exactly the answer that I’d expected. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled. Still, I was reluctantly obedient.

I began to think about one of Christ Jesus’ prayers at the time of his crucifixion: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus didn’t ignore things that needed to be addressed. Check out the Gospels, and you’ll see that Jesus left many of the people he healed with instructions: Dump the bad behavior. But where most people saw hopeless sinners, Jesus consistently saw people as redeemable and worthy of healing – inherently capable of living up to their true, spiritual identity as the children of God.

I have to believe that Jesus’ seeing those individuals in this light not only kept him from falling into hopelessness and despair but also must have profoundly impacted those he forgave to go forward and change for the better.

So my prayers affirmed the true nature of everyone – not everyone except this politician! – as God’s child, created to express the intelligence, selflessness, and purity of the Divine. As I prayed, I started to see that I could disagree (often strongly) with this individual without hating or wishing ill upon them. This realization helped me resist the pull of hate and despair and engage with the news in a more thoughtful, hopeful way.

Praying the news doesn’t mean that things always go our way. But as we bring our sincere prayers – our heartfelt desire to witness the spiritual reality that underlies existence – to bear on the act of following the news, we are changed. We are less subject to the ups and downs of the news cycle, no longer easily swayed by the currents of emotion that accompany particular stories and events. And we glimpse more of the goodness that God expresses in all His children – evidenced in intolerance yielding to kindness, hatred being dissolved by patient love, and incivility being replaced by mutual respect and understanding.

Regardless of where we live or who we vote for, that’s something our world desperately needs – and something we can each be a part of.

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