Thought for the Week: The point of prayer

Alastair McIntosh reflects on prayer and protest

Last week was billed as the ‘last stand’ by the Great Sioux Nation in America. For the past year the tribe at Standing Rock have spearheaded a battle against companies that want to build a thousand-mile-plus pipeline through US military-owned land, extracting half-a-million barrels of oil a day from the shale rocks of North Dakota.

One of the last things that Barack Obama did in office as president of the United States of America was to block the route of the pipeline through waters, lands and sites held sacred by the Sioux.

One of the first acts of Donald Trump, when he became president, was to reverse that decision. Drilling operations could now start at any hour, and for the Sioux it is back to the courts and to gearing up the protests.

What has been striking is that the protesters have fought force not with force in kind, but mainly with spiritual activism. The ‘weapons’ used have been inner more than outer. As the elders say: ‘Our youth are watching and remember the faces of the officers that assaulted them. They pray for them.’

Supporters turn up, expecting to shout and battle with the police; but instead, they’re asked to stand all day and simply pray.

‘What is the point of prayer?’ many ask. Well, it got to a former soldier. Wes Clark junior is the son of Wesley Clark, the general who rose to fame in the Vietnam war. In December Wes Clark junior led 2,000 of his fellow US army veterans to form a human shield at Standing Rock, joining in the prayers and spiritually confronting the police and bulldozers.

In America, you don’t mess with veterans, and as this drama unfolded, Barack Obama signed his order.

Prayer, in any situation, works upon an inner battlefield. That inner realm is what shapes our resultant outer actions. It is the long front on which opposing forces are aligned in the big picture of our lives – longer than any pipeline running through the courts – a front that is only ever fully seen from a God’s-eye view.

This is a revised version of Thought for the Day broadcast on 9 February on BBC Radio Scotland

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