Every year on National Day of Prayer, I want to write something, but I never know what. The day always feels a bit abstract. Considering Scripture instructs us to “pray continually”, a specific prayer day seems superfluous and a “national” day to pray seems patronizing. But I recognize special days are set aside for special things.
One event that helps me contextualize National Day of Prayer every year is the annual Mayoral Prayer Breakfast in good ‘ole La Crosse, Wisconsin. Every year, local pastors and ministers organize this morning event for the local Christian community to attend, along with the city mayor and representatives of the local police and fire department, in order to show our gratitude for the services they provide for the local community and pray for their protection and wisdom. The tagline on this year’s poster reads “A Local Expression of the National Day of Prayer”.
Our lives are not lived nationally, but locally. They’re lived next door to someone, along familiar streets, nearby schools, government buildings, businesses, medical clinics. Though we all know this, it’s easy to lose sight of it in our wide-angle, big picture perceptions of “national”, so if I may, I would like to fill these abstractions with local details. These local services come alive and make much more sense within the framework of story.
I’m writing this while sitting in the library, a place for which I am so grateful. From where I’m seated I can see homemade quilts hanging from the ceiling and second floor guardrails, pamphlets and programs for local educational activities, addiction agencies, local community volunteer opportunities, computer classes for the elderly. Amongst student research projects on display in the lobby, the two I see are “Henry Ford: Mass Producing Cars & Mobilizing America” and “Woody Guthrie: Voice of the People”. To the side is a bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln along with paintings and prints of the bluffs of our Coulee Region, the festive Oktoberfest grounds, steamboats at sunset on our mighty Mississipp’, Native Americans in tribal dress, stone cathedrals emerging from the morning mist. And of course, countless books all around, opening our minds up to a world of information and imagination.
I’ve seen everyone from the community enter and exit here: elderly couples gathering novels for their evenings, families with little kids picking up Dr. Seuss to nurture their young minds. I met the city mayor here when he was still a candidate. The homeless come in, looking for a place to go; job hunters come in to search the want ads and work on resumes. A guy with an ankle bracelet just passed my table. People with special needs and disabilities come in to read, research, play games, do activities, keep themselves busy. Our public library is also occasionally a site for an assortment of seminars, various clubs, and Hunger Task Force. And through it all are the librarians who are the gatekeepers of this world of information and imagination.
I’m thankful for the area police departments. This morning I heard a “jumper” was talked down off the Cass Street Bridge by local police officers. Last week they carefully investigated the tragic death of a young lady who accidently died under the influence. Last night a local man was arrested with child pornography. I know a number of these officers are involved with local church congregations and I pray God give them safety and wisdom as they serve the community.
I am so thankful for the Fire Department and the emergency services they provide. I never see the emergency, but when I’m driving down Losey and Green Bay and the flashing lights, blaring horns, and screaming sirens clear the way for the Fire and Rescue trucks, I know time is standing terrifying still for someone out there and that help is on the way. A year ago a neighbor of ours fell asleep and never woke up; I remember stepping away from the door so these emergency workers could step into the chaos and try to bring order or sense of clarity and continuity. My Pastor-Dad did her funeral.
Many prayers were offered at the breakfast this morning. One was delivered by a woman of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse asking God to give strength and wisdom to the local educators who so enthusiastically spend their lives trying to shape our youth in ways that are not always clearly understood, but whose influence will be revealed in moments when those youth make the choices that will shape their and their community’s futures. Another prayer was offered by a local priest who prayed that God’s love, wisdom, and image may be displayed in the creativity and productivity of local entrepreneurs, artists, and business leaders.
We live locally; when we pray, we pray locally. The culture of God’s kingdom we try to cultivate in our daily witness only takes root in the local, where the people are; not in the national where idealizations abound. The local is where God’s redemptive work plays out every day through the believers who prayerfully and gracefully give witness to it. On this National Day of Prayer, I pray that you, dear believer, become a local expression of God at work in your neighborhood. May his kingdom come, and his will be done in your local community as it is in heaven.