Praying in the Shadow of Death


The Internet has been good for us in many ways. But, I feel that a warning should be issued at this point. Warning: The number of connections that we can make due to websites, search engines, social media, and our twenty-four-hour news cycle can cause apathy, listlessness, numbing, and a severe loss of compassion. If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, please stop using the Internet and consult a real person in real life.

We are touched by so many stories. We are connected to so many people. We follow Jesus and 3,763 other people—mostly strangers. We stay in touch through pages, posts, and pictures—mostly selfies. We want to be seen and touched if only virtually through our like button. We live for a thumbs up, convinced that it is evidence of our social approval rating.

But, where do we put thousands of people, pictures, and experiences? An iCloud. Because there is no real way to capture it all in real space and time. So, we collect and store, save and file away.

And when words like “mass shooting”, “terrorist attack”, and “a suspected case of police brutality” are repeated again and again, it can be hard to know what to do with these words. What emoji do we use for lament? Do we simply file these experiences away? And at what angle do we hold our selfie stick to capture the shadow of death? How do we share in this pain without the conversation being reduced to hash tags, like buttons, and re-tweets?

There are too many to name, and yet, they all touch us because we are so connected. If we say nothing and merely store it, then the iCloud quickly becomes a dark cloud. What do we say then? What can we say now?

Death is final; surely, we cannot get a word in. Six feet of dirt covers it all. We cannot make light of it and there are no nice words, no expressions that would make us more comfortable in the presence of death.

This may explain why it is hard to talk to God in the presence of its shadow. We feel like a third wheel as only death and God really know what has happened. It can seem as if there is no prayer for this, no conversation to be had.

Unsure of a divine plan that would allow for such atrocities, we simply don’t follow. We don’t get it and are uncertain of the direction that God is taking.

We might even wonder if we should stop or keep going. Confused, dazed and hurt even, we just want to sit in silence. We might be tempted to sit in the shadow.

But, I must remind us that it is a shadow. There is not just light at the end of the tunnel but in Christ Jesus. So, pray with the end in mind. We know the Amen (Revelations 3:14). We have the Connection—the Alpha and Omega (Revelations 1:8). Christ is the Light and he has given us the power to leave the shadows behind. That’s our real life.

smcneillReverend Starlette McNeill* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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