I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all in high positions, so that we may lead a peaceable life. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NRSV, adapted)
During the tumultuous English Reformation, Mary Tudor, a devout Catholic, ascended to the throne and began repressing Protestants. Protestants, who’d earlier repressed Catholics, hated her.
Still, knowing that Scripture commands prayer for rulers and enemies, they obediently prayed for Mary. This was their prayer:
“O God, turn the heart of the Queen from idolatry to true faith. Or shorten her days.”
Not exactly the sort of prayer Scripture had in mind. But those Protestants weren’t the first, nor would they be the last, to utter murderous prayers.
Today we celebrate the founding of our nation, a nation flawed from the start but conceived in hope and rationality. Now it crackles with anger, hatred, and conspiratorial fear. We wave Old Glory over incompatible dreams. Compromise is treason. People who disagree have become mortal foes, our Marys.
I wonder: what sort of prayers are we praying for our Marys now? “Turn their hearts” prayers? “Shorten their days” prayers? Do we pray for them at all?
Scripture commands us to pray, not murderously but sincerely and perseveringly, for everyone. For those who aspire and conspire to power. For the cynical who profit from the lies that turn us against each other. For real and manufactured enemies.
We won’t heal national wounds just by praying. But praying wholeheartedly for our Marys might make it just a little harder to keep loathing them. And that’s not nothing. For whether it’s people or nations, you can’t save what you don’t love.
O God, turn our hearts a fraction more toward each other through heartfelt prayer, so that we may lead a more peaceable national life, with liberty and justice for all.