What it Means to Pray for Healing, Unity and Hope

by | Nov 4, 2020

Bishop Mariann preached this homily at the Service of Healing, Unity, and Hope at Washington National Cathedral.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 
Matthew 5:13-16

In his most recent book, Love is the Way: Holding onto Hope in Troubling Times, the Presiding Bishop has a chapter that you’re drawn to read by the title alone: “What Desmond Tutu and Dolly Parton Have in Common.” The short answer is their dreams. He quotes Dolly Parton tell of the dreams that helped her rise from crushing poverty in Appalachia. Desmond Tutu dedicated most of his life to holding onto the dream that one day his native South Africa would be free from the evil of apartheid.1

Lest you think the chapter then falls into platitudes about dreams, Bishop Curry pivots to events in his own life, and in particular, what happened in the years 1967-68. He was a teenager. 1967 was the year his mother died. 1968 was the year his two heros died: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. What held him together in those years was the example of his father and of the Black Church, and this sense from those around him that you just keep going in the face of struggle. You don’t give up. Most importantly, for all in his world, Jesus wasn’t somewhere up in the sky. Jesus was right there, in the struggle with them. 

Curry’s point throughout this chapter comes in the form of a gentle exhortation: if you’re going to live by your dreams, be prepared to go deep, and to live deeply, and to face the despair of disappointment when you bump up against the crucible steel of life. But when you do, he writes, trust that hope will see you through. Curry then cites the “Ten Commandments of Non Violence” that was part of the essential teaching and training for those involved with King in the Civil Rights Movement.2

Here are the first nine: 

  • Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  • Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  • Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  • Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
  • Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free.
  • Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  • Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  • Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  • Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

We are in this for the long haul, and if we’re going to live and walk in the love of Jesus we need to have clarity about what that means. 

We gather today in prayer for healing, for unity, and for hope.

This I know, from personal experience, about the healing process: if your body sustains a deep wound, and a scab or thin layer of skin forms on the surface, it can look as if healing is taking place. But if the connective tissue underneath the skin doesn’t come together in its own process, that part of the wound can get infected and grow worse. Though the deeper wound is hidden for a time underneath the scab or skin, it’s not healing at all. So as we pray for healing in our nation, we do well to remember that there is little to be gained and, in fact, much harm to be done if we tend too quickly to the surface of things while ignoring the wounds underneath. May we pray for deep healing. 

This is what I know about unity: that it often comes at the expense of those whose inclusion is too costly for the dominant group. This is as true on the playground and in family relationships as it is in the wider society. Then that exclusion is often forgotten by those who have settled for what the prophet Isaiah called “peace when there is no peace.”  

We don’t have to look far for examples from our history. After the Civil War and the political whiplash of a white supremacist becoming president after the assassination of presdient Lincoln followed by a president committed to Reconstruction of the South and real liberties for those formerly enslaved, followed by a series of leaders in the South committed to dismantling all the gains blacks had made and Northerners more than happy to look the other way, there was a constant drumbeat for national unity between North and South. Monuments all over the country were erected, stained glass windows in this Cathedral installed, all in the service of unity between whites. We know who was excluded from that unity, from the ideals of democracy and liberty and justice for all.  Some of the most shameful events of our history–many of which were suppressed from our collective memory–come from that time, and from the impulse for unity along racial lines. So as we pray for unity, may we remember that the kind of unity worthy of the Kingdom of God and represented in the mosaic of this nation is not one that will come by exclusion, but with the hard work of reconciling. 

This I know about hope. It isn’t something we need to manufacture. It is God’s gift. Hope  often rises from despair. It can stir our hearts even when we have reason to give up. I wish I could tell you how this happens; I only know that it does. Hope resists platitudes or wishful thinking. It allows for grief and all its manifestations. It never chastises us for being exhausted and worried. It doesn’t ask us to pretend that everything is going to be okay when we don’t know if that’s true, at least in the short term. 

But what hope does–and thank God for hope–is help us rise again, not from our strength, but from the strength that comes to us from the deepest wells of the human spirit, where God’s divine spirit meets us. 

Now there is a cost to this hope, and we do have to choose it, because it refuses to deny the reality of suffering. You may have heard a refrain from St. Paul on the importance of suffering. He writes that we need to embrace suffering, for suffering is what produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope–and this hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans. 5:1-5) The source of our hope is the amazing love of God. 

In this time of waiting for the results of this election to be revealed, let me simply say that not only do we believe, as theological bedrock, that every person is a beloved child of God, we also believe that every citizen has a right to cast a vote. Those votes need to be counted. So we wait. And it’s not helpful–it’s a bit embarrassing, and frankly outrageous for our president to cast doubt on the normal practices of democracy and the heroic efforts of so many during this pandemic to exercise their right to vote. So we will wait for the results and take it from there. Whatever the outcome, the practice, the discipline, the call to love is the same. We pray for deep peace. We pray for unity that excludes no one. And we set our sights on hope. 

I love the biblical passage about letting our light shine. But I wish it said let Jesus’ light shine. I’m not as confident about mine, but I can let His light shine. And I’m letting him be the salt, not me. I’m placing my hope that God will prevail in the end.

And in the meantime? 

Last night my husband Paul and I went down to Black Lives Matter Plaza. There were all manner of young people there. Some were singing; some were shouting; some held up signs. There was a lot of drumming. It was chaotic and peaceful. The police were respectfully keeping distant watch. And there was this whole line of press cameras and journalists ready to tell the world what was about to transpire. 

But there wasn’t much happening that was newsworthy. We walked around a bit more. Then I met a group of people who are part of a group known as the “Nonviolent Peaceforce.” The Nonviolent Peaceforce places people trained in nonviolence into some of the most politically charged and volatile situations around the world, to be instruments of peace. There is a DC Peaceforce and they were there last night, and they were praying and walking and offering themselves. I spoke to the leader. He said, “All of us here are people of faith. And it would be really great if you were to join us.” I’m thinking that I will. 

So, friends, in the meantime and beyond, what we can do is meditate on the teachings of Jesus. And remember that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation. We can walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love. We can daily pray to be used by God in order that all might be free; sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free; observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy; seek to perform regular service for others and for the world. We can refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart. And strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

If we do those things, then surely the light of Jesus will shine through us, as we dare to hope and to dream and to work for true healing and unity.

May it be so. 


1 Bishop Michael Curry, Love is the Way: Holding Onto Hope in Troubled Times (New York: Avery, 2020), pp 70-94.
“Ten Commandments of Nonviolence” @1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; copyright renewed 1991 Coretta Scott King.