Prayers of lament: Responding to the violence of racism

By Mennonite Church USA staff

As we have witnessed the recent and persistent violence upon black bodies, we are offering this space of collective lament and grief that comes from many voices across Mennonite Church USA (MC USA).

Biblical lament shows us how to express deep sorrow, name suffering and cry out for God. “Laments tell the truth of the suffering that is smothering our worthiness, our dreams, our ability to work toward a better tomorrow,” writes womanist scholar Dr. Emilie M. Townes. “Naming these horrors in an unrestrained lament helps mold us into a people who respond with an emphatic ‘No!’ to the ways our nation and our communities of faith are turned into graven images of hatred and despair.”

These laments are written by pastors, leaders, lay people, students — people from different races, cultures, languages. We invite you to pray and lament along with them, hoping you will find the words you need to pray deeply in this time.

You can also read MC USA’s statement against racial injustice and a call to engage in more costly peacemaking from Glen Guyton, MC USA’s executive director.

 

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How long?
By Jason Timothy Smith

Following Matthew chapter five
Specifically, the words in red
He turned the other cheek
Just like the Lord Jesus said.
While kneeling on his neck
Until he finally lay dead
An officer peered down
In final judgment, overhead.

How long, Oh Lord?

Following the final five minutes
This Black man lay to sleep
On a bed of black asphalt
Trimmed with white concrete.
Shadowed by the shades of blue
Men that tied tags to his feet.
Seeing the color of judgment
While Blind Justice openly weeps.

How long, Oh Lord?
Will thou forget us forever?
How long, Oh Lord?
Until our bonds are severed?
How long, Oh Lord?
The psalmist’s words we now remember.
How long, Oh Lord?
May mercy rain amongst burning embers.

The past five years following
The tragic death of Eric Garner,
The Black resistance that it built
And the attention that it garnered.
Also created a reactionary
Movement of a fully armored
Police force that recoursed
To private biases they harbored

How long, Oh Lord?

The past five days following
The death of George Floyd,
(Following the pattern of Eric Garner,
Other martyrs and the death of our Lord)
Cause us to question the leaders
Who wantonly wield the sword,
And long for the redemption
Of victims Christ was crucified for.

 

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Lament
By Erica Littlewolf

To the African American, Black, people of African descent and African people who call Turtle Island home, from an Indigenous Northern Cheyenne woman of mixed descent residing on a reservation in southeastern Montana.

You and I are intertwined in America’s dysfunctional love story
Woven together by white death grip hands
We are actors in our worst nightmare, I’m stolen land and you’re stolen labor
Sometimes we are actresses and I’m MMIW and you are death by police brutality
And when religiosity stands aside, we have yet to fully acknowledge the death of trans people, two spirit and queer.

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I light the ceremonial sage grown on the land of my people
Remembering how fire came to us as a gift and how the smoke will carry my words to Creator
I pray the way of my grandparents and ancestors
I breathe in the medicine, deeply, remembering the day I was born and breath was given to me

I ask for comfort through grief and grieving
May your mourning bring healing and health
May justice surpass our understanding and live in our spirits
May new people rise to speak & profess so others can rest
May this stolen America find itself anew, a chance to change
May we be reminded that the spirit of life leans toward justice
May the breath we desire so deeply be abundant, that no man can take.

And we let these prayers fall loosely and fiercely from our beings
Knowing we are imperfect, we don’t always have the words
But we Can’t. Not. Say. Nothing.
Because BLACK LIVES MATTER.

 

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Love moves at a snail’s pace
By Cyneatha Millsaps

It only takes a minute to spew hate into this world, but love moves much slower. Now why is that?

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

Maybe hate moves faster because love is moving at a snail’s pace.

“Grandma, that’s murder!” “That’s murder right?” my 11-year-old grandson asked me, as we watched the police officer press his knee into the neck of George Floyd. The very man, he was paid to protect. My son, looks my grandson directly in the eye and says with a serious and uncompromising voice, “that is why when they stop you, you say nothing, you don’t move, you pray and ask someone to call me.”

I told my son that same speech, some 17 years ago. My mother told me and my siblings. Her mother told her and so on. We must keep telling the same speech because nothing has changed…

love is moving at a snail’s pace.

 

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Lament
By Melissa Florer-Bixler

“For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.” Isaiah 9:5

In Minneapolis
at the foot of the cross,
your neck pinned
under the knee of an officer.

We are not as we ought to be,
Whiteness whispers into cradles until
later, by instinct, we can turn a phone call
into a rope around a tree.

When did we see you?
Your back broken in a police van
Your neck broken on the sidewalk?
When could you not breathe?
When did we see you, shot in your bed?
When did we see you, hung in a county jail cell?

Come grieving mother, weeping child.
Come ministers of fire. Come priests of smoke.
Come heat, come Spirit,
turn gun and badge and night stick
to ash.

Come flame.
Burn us away until
we must begin again.

 

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Lament in Spanish and English
By Javier Márquez

Esta mañana oramos sin esconder el dolor en nuestros corazones por la muerte de George Floyd. Duele cada minuto que pasa sin justicia, que es un elemento indispensable de la paz. Duele cada minuto cuando somos testigos que los actos de odio siguen matando, polarizando, separandonos como hermanos y hermanas. Duele cada minuto que pasamos a la sombra de la impunidad. Duele cada minuto cuando nos preguntamos quién era George Floyd, a quiénes ha dejado solos, quiénes no podrán volver a sentir su amor, sus abrazos, sus palabras, sus miradas, sus sonrisas. Duele cada minuto también porque el Espíritu Santo nos hace conscientes que la muerte violenta, desalentadora e injusta de George Floyd es en muchos sentidos nuestra propia muerte, que el dolor de su familia y amigos es nuestro propio dolor, que la ira de su comunidad es nuestra propia ira, que la desesperanza que viven en este momento en Minneapolis se puede convertir en la nuestra no importa en qué ciudad o país vivamos.

Oramos a un Jesús que lloró con los tristes y sufrió con los oprimidos y dijo “Bienaventurados los que lloran porque serán consolados” y “Bienaventurados los que tienen hambre y sed de justicia porque serán saciados”. Por eso nuestra oración también es una denuncia que reclama por verdadera paz, que pide por perdón, esperando por días de real e integral reconciliación.

(Translation in English)

This morning we prayed without hiding the pain in our hearts for the death of George Floyd. It hurts every minute that passes without justice, which is an indispensable element of peace. It hurts every minute when we witness that acts of hatred continue killing, polarizing, separating us as brothers and sisters. It hurts every minute we spend in the shadow of impunity. It hurts every minute when we wonder who George Floyd was, who he has left alone, who will never be able to feel his love, his hugs, his words, his looks, his smiles. It hurts every minute also because the Holy Spirit makes us aware that George Floyd’s violent, discouraging and unjust death is in many ways our own death, that the pain of his family and friends is our own pain, that the anger of his community is our own anger, that the hopelessness that we are living in this moment can become ours.

We pray to a Jesus who wept with the sad and suffered with the oppressed. That is why our prayer is also a complaint that claims for true peace, that asks for forgiveness, waiting for days of real and comprehensive reconciliation.

 

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A prayer of lament
By Jerrell Williams

When will they listen God? When will they hear the voices of the oppressed? When will the excuses end? God, we your people are now in pain and no one seems to care. They want to focus on what we do, but they do not want to acknowledge what they have done. They refuse to turn away from their sin. They have sullied the table. Their ignorance has taken the lives of George Floyd, Antwon Rose Jr., Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and many more.

God, we turn to you now in prayer for our black and brown siblings. Guide us! Protect us with your mighty hand! God we are so tired. Our spirits have become weary from the gaslighting, the justifying, the minimizing, and the silencing of our voices. God let your spirit reenergize us. Let the fires of our rage never be quenched by the manipulative tears of our oppressors. Let the fires of our ancestors bring forth a new Pentecost. One that ignites the hearts of all of humanity and calls us to learn a new language. The language of the oppressed. May the master’s tools be broken. May our rage be louder than ever! May our outcry for justice disrupt and dismantle the systems of oppression. God, we pray for your peace in our world, knowing that the only way for it to come is by justice being done for your children. Amen!

 

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Lament
By Clara Weybright

God, we lament the damage that our silence in the face of racial violence has done,
for the sins of racism that run through our lives like so many threads in a cloth.
Forgive us for the times we have given in to our discomfort, for the times
we have forgotten our own privilege and failed to stand with our black siblings.
Help those of us who experience white privilege every day remember that, with our privilege,
we are imbued with the responsibility to challenge and hold one another accountable.
Give us the courage to educate ourselves, to listen well,
and to use our voices when it is most needed.

 

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1965. 1992. 2020.
By Sue Park-Hur

City burns again
Rage and anguish for George Floyd
Overflow to streets

We are here again
Unable to breathe freely
Extinguished spirits

Fear to see and change
Fear to hear and understand
Admit wrong, repent

Newcomers like me
Entangled in history
Of violence and war

Learn we are not safe
From hate, scapegoating and blame
It’s hard to find home

But this is not time
To hush silently withdraw
It’s time to speak up

God calls us to love
Neighbors from the margins
Where we too reside

Hosting space for rest
Singing ancient songs we share
Conspiring new paths

 

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Lament in English and Spanish
By Danilo Sanchez

God of the Oppressed,
Yet again you have been killed by the very people that claim to love you
Yet again your innocent blood has been poured out
How long must your body endure this suffering?

God of Justice,
Yet again we ask you, when will you make all things right? When will you hold accountable the evil doers?
We are tired of waiting! Your people are still dying!
Make your ears deaf to the prayers of those who would say these evil acts are justified
For you are a God who loves justice and will punish the evil doer.

Reconciling God,
We lament we are not your reconciled people
We lament that the love of power has found a place in your church
Forgive us. Heal us. Speak your truth to us.

Amen.

(Translation in Spanish)

Dios de los Oprimidos,
Una vez más, has sido asesinado por las mismas personas que dicen que te aman.
Una vez más, tu sangre inocente ha sido derramada.
¿Hasta cuando debes sufrir?

Dios de la Justicia,
Una vez más te preguntamos, ¿Cuándo corregirás la injusticia? ¿Cuándo se hará responsables a los malvados?
¡Estamos cansados de esperar! ¡Tu gente todavía está muriendo!
Que tus oídos estén sordos a las oraciones de aquellos que dirían que estos actos malvados están justificados
Porque eres un Dios que ama la justicia y castigará al malvado

Dios Reconciliado,
Lamentamos no ser tu pueblo reconciliado
Lamentamos que el amor al poder haya encontrado un lugar en tu iglesia.
Perdónanos. Cúranos. Dínos tu verdad.

Amen.

 

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Breathe on me
By Leah Wenger

Battered, Broken, Betrayed.
I stand Before you
Between the lines
Breathe on me Breath of God

Because I have Betrayed
My Brother and sister
By my silence
Breathe on me Breath of God

But what is Breath
when it is stolen
Humanity Beyond recognition
Buried in Blood

Bring us transformation
Beauty for Brokenness
Expose me for my blindness
Breathe on me the breath to see

Be Brave and Bold
Beyond what others can see
So when I can’t Breathe
God Breathe on me

When I cannot see my Betrayal
Bring me to the light
I Beg for the wisdom to Be Better
Bless me with the strength
to never stop Becoming

Beyond the patience to listen
Bring me into action
I can’t Breathe
So God, Breathe through me

 

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Lament in Bahasa Indonesia and English
By Louise Andriyanto

Bapa di dalam sorga, kami datang merendahkan diri di hadapanMu. Kami membawa negara Amerika ini dan kota tempat kami tinggal. Inilah doa dan seruan hati kami.

A song (https://youtu.be/hCiMwXXhkys):

“Syukur untuk setiap rencanaMu, dan rancanganMu yang mulia. Dalam satu tubuh kami bersatu, menjadi duta kerajaanMu.

Kuucapkan berkat atas Amerika, biar kemuliaan Tuhan akan nyata.

Bagi bangsa ini kami berdiri dan membawa doa kami kepadaMu. Sesuatu yang besar pasti terjadi dan mengubahkan negeri kami. Hanya namaMu Tuhan ditinggikan atas seluruh bumi”

(Translation in English)

The prayer:

Father in Heaven, we humbly come before you. We lift up America and the City where we live at. Our hearts cry out to you, and here is our prayer.

A song:

“Giving thanks to every plan you have, your glorious plans. We unite ourselves as one body and as the ambassadors of your Kingdom.

We speak blessings upon America, let your glory fall.

For this country, we stand up and bring our prayers to you. A big thing (a revival) is yet to come and it will change our nation. Let only your name be glorified in the whole earth.”

 

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Lament
By Kayla Berkey

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

Oh Holy One, how long will we grieve death,
how many more breaths will these cycles of violence steal from sacred black lives?
Hear our cries.
We grieve for George Floyd.
We grieve for Breonna Taylor.
We grieve for Tony McDade.
We grieve for Ahmaud Arbery.
We grieve for Dion Johnson.
We grieve for Nina Pop.
We grieve for Sean Reed.
We grieve for each sacred person whose name we have come to know
through the unspeakable grief and injustice of their death.
We shudder at the inhumanity, at how many precious lives have been taken.
We grieve the ache of every person who bears this pain
and holds fear for their lives deeply in their bodies.

We lament the loss of these holy lives.
We lament officers and politicians encouraging, “peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
We lament the absence of justice.

Awaken us to any false declarations of “peace, peace,” that cover over violence.
Awaken us to the violence of this country’s status quo.
Awaken us to the urgency of overturning the tables of injustice.

Awaken us who are white women to the reality of our ongoing history
of complicity with anti-black racism done in our name.
Expose us where we are most deeply shaped by a racist system
so that we can name it in ourselves and never stop working to dismantle it.

Holy Spirit, come with fire that burns away silence and complacency.
Move us beyond saying ‘peace, peace.’
Help us shape our words into stones with weight that we use, in community,
to build the long path to justice, to peace.

 


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One thought on “Prayers of lament: Responding to the violence of racism

  1. You have provided the gift of understanding the purpose and content of lamenting, in this case for the many blacks among us whose lives have been taken from them in the name of “justice”. Only when we ourselves can fully lament these injustices can we know how to identify with those families who have experienced these unjust deaths of their loved ones.
    What has been recorded on these pages opened my heart to the depth of fear and pain surrounding the vunerability and totally unnecessary deaths of the non-whites among us.

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