There are a lot of images around these days that have come to symbolize this past year. Images are photos, cartoons, magnifications, paintings, sculptures, and just about anything that symbolizes or represents someone or something, real or imaginary. Images are regular features in online media as well as movies and television newscasts or advertisements, to name a few. They become iconic, representing people events we need or want to remember, such as 9/11, Martin Luther King Jr., damage from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, atrocities of ethnic cleansing around the world, and natural disasters arising from weather phenomena.
This year we seem to have had more than our share of icons, most of which are still around and probably will be for some time. For one, take the image/representation of a COVID-19 virus. Yes, it illustrates one of the significant problems in our country and around the world today, but taking the same image, changing the colors and backgrounds, enlarging it, minimizing the size, and seeing it everywhere doesn’t seem to be getting the message across that it is a killer, and that people need to take precautions for themselves and others to decrease exposure and reduce the statistics of cases and fatalities. Images of masks and their use, illustrations of social distancing, and repeated warnings don’t seem to be getting across to those who most need those warnings, namely those who don’t believe there is a pandemic and that it is a dangerous situation for people of all ages.
Images of signs, posters, murals, buttons, and street art surrounding the Black Lives Matter cause have been around for months and even longer. Those images represent the continual problem of innocent Black people, especially young men, both guilty and innocent, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that they were mistaken for a threat to others by merely being Black. Gun violence has also been a plague that has taken the lives of countless people, many of them innocent of anything other than being in the path of a bullet fired by someone trying to prove a point (or remove a rival).
We are used to images like crosses on churches, hand scales on government buildings dedicated to justice, pictures of politicians and public figures (whether they’re being praised or arrested), and advertisements for everything from computers to stomach soothers. In short, imagery is everywhere and serves a multitude of purposes.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that featured an American flag with the stars arranged to spell out “Pray.” It made me stop and think about what it represented to the owner of the vehicle and what it meant to people merely reading it as it passed by. It is a symbol within a symbol, to my way of thinking. The representation of the flag itself marks a division between those who idolize this country and its past (good and bad) and those who see a country that needs changes in some of those traditions (good and bad).
Then there was the word “Pray.” It is a given that prayer is something we Christians and other faiths are encouraged to do. We are supposed to pray for family and friends, in thanksgiving for the good things of life, asking forgiveness for something we have done wrong, and even pray for our neighbors, whether we like them or not. Hardest for me these days is to pray for some individuals I loathe for their behavior, the misuse of their power, and feelings of superiority because of the color of their skin or their religion. Images of their faces are often enough to make me scroll down to cover it on social or news media, or quickly flip the page in magazines and newspapers. Still, the Book of Common Prayer has intercessions for officials, regardless of party or behavior. Priests remind us to pray for those we have trouble loving (much less liking), and peace, health, and safety in times of trial. This year, 2020, has undoubtedly been a year full of those times of hardship.
Thinking about the bumper sticker, America truly needs prayer these days. Instead of becoming more polarized, the citizens of this nation need to come together to help one another through the tough times we encounter every day. Fires, floods, heat, sickness, death, homelessness, violence, supremacy, divisiveness, fear, and anxiety are situations affecting millions every day, and, whether specifically called out by those names in the Prayer Book or even the Bible, Jesus encouraged us to pray and to love our neighbor, which sums it all up rather nicely. It’s impossible to wish ill on your neighbor and love them at the same time. So perhaps in addition to prayers for the nation and its leaders, victims, and situations of peril, we should pray for our country and its problems.
One good way to pray for the nation is to work for its healing. Work is a way of praying with one’s whole being, whether marching for justice, campaigning for causes that support bringing people together and correcting wrongs, writing to representatives encouraging their support of such causes, and praying continually for peace, safety, health, and acceptance of diversity. God is a great healer, but God needs our hands, hearts, minds, and voices to get the message across and accomplish the goals.
Perhaps I need to send up a prayer every time I see one of those images that remind me of what is going on in my country and my world. I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot more time in prayer than usual for me, but that would probably be an excellent thing.
P.S. I subsequently learned that the bumper sticker was a product of the Christian Broadcasting Network. I’m afraid I have to disagree with most of their positions. Still, I can certainly pray for America and its needs to the God of my understanding.
Image: Praying Hands, Author: Peter Paul Rubens, c.1600. Found at Wikimedia Commons