We need more than prayer

Days later, it’s still impossible for me to wrap my mind around what transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning.

I did my best to avoid the images coming in from Newtown, Conn., but I could not avoid the same thought that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind: How could someone kill 27 people, including 20 six- and seven-year-olds?

What’s nearly as disturbing to me is the fact that this feels all too familiar. We’ve had so many of these senseless rampages in just the past year, from Chardon High School in Ohio to a movie theater in Colorado to a business in Minnesota to a shopping mall in Oregon, that we’ve developed a formula to our reactions.

At first, there is the shock and horror at the needless loss of life, followed quickly by the never-ending chorus of “whys” that tries to find a reason for the killings. These are genuine feelings that we share in the wake of these tragedies.

Never far behind are the voices of those who see these events as further evidence that we as a country need to make some serious changes, beginning by making it more difficult to purchase or own a gun. But these voices are never alone.

They are always paired bitterly with another segment of the population who say it’s too soon to start talking about any changes. They believe that it is disrespectful to the victims and their families to spend the hours following their deaths discussing policy changes.

They say that the best thing we can do is stop, reflect and pray. Well, that’s not enough for me.

I am going to stop now and make it as clear as I can that this is in no way an attack on prayer or those who believe that prayer can play a powerful and meaningful role in a person’s life.

I understand why people are drawn to prayer at times like this. Such a senseless act of brutality naturally leads us to try and find some higher meaning in it all, and by praying for the victims and their families we can feel like we’re doing something in a situation where we know we’re nothing but hopeless bystanders. 

But we need a lot more than prayer right now.

No amount of prayer can bring back those 27 people. No amount of prayer can make it so those 20 children can live full and happy lives. Nothing can do that.

While prayer may give us some sense of control or comfort after a tragedy like this, we need to do more. We need to do all we can to try and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

I don’t understand the people who say that the only respectful thing we can do right now is offer our prayers to the families. What tangible good can that do? How will that make our children safer?

Is it not more disrespectful to continually refuse to talk about the problems in our society that make these tragedies occur far too often? Is it not more disrespectful to ignore the incredible accessibility of weapons and incredible inaccessibility of mental health care in our country?

Every time we choose prayer and reflection over trying to affect change, we are merely beginning the countdown to the next tragedy. If 20 dead children can’t show us that, I don’t know what will.

Once again, this is not an attack on prayer. It is simply a plea for something more this time.

A group of people in West Hartford, Conn., gathered for a prayer vigil in memory of those who died in Newtown, Conn.

A group of people in West Hartford, Conn., gathered for a prayer vigil in memory of those who died in Newtown, Conn.

If you would like to pray, please do. Pray for the victims and their families, that they may find some comfort and peace after these unthinkable acts. Then pray that we can come together as a country and do something to prevent these needless killings.

Then stand up, go out and do something to make it happen.

Ryan Levi

About Ryan Levi

Ryan Levi considers himself religiously secular yet culturally Jewish. He provides commentary from his unique religious perspective. 

3 Responses to “We need more than prayer”

  1. Steve Swope

    Amen, Ryan. I think especially that those of us who are miles away, most of whom have no real connection to people in Newtown other than our common humanity – it’s our job to pray and also to do much more, to have “the talk” about weapons and about mental health care in our society. They need space and time to grieve; we can give some sort of meaning, paltry as it is, to that grieving.

  2. Greg Lammers

    Well put Ryan. Nothing wrong with comforting rituals (barring harming others or hopefully one’s self) as long as they aren’t mistaken or substituted for material action.

    Robert Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic,” is supposed to have said: “The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray.” This sentiment, which you have here written passionately of, is important to keep in mind when tragedies occur. Thank you.

  3. Ryan Levi

    Thanks for your comments guys. I have no doubt that prayer can be of comfort to the families and to us but we are failing those who lost their lives if we don’t do something to stop it from happening again.


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