The excellent and moving documentary “Unfortunate Brothers: Korea’s Reunification Dilemma” will be screening at Westminster College in Salt Lake City on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm. There will be a Q & A following the film with the director, an expert from the film, and a member of the National Unification Advisory council. Admission is free, doors open at 6:30pm. This is the ninth original documentary created for the “Beyond the Border” series produced by Combat Films & Research for the David M. Kennedy Center at Brigham Young University, and the first program focusing on Korea. It will also air on September 30, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. on KBYU-11.
(Prayer clip from Unfortunate Brothers — the short, powerful prayer begins at the 30 second mark, http://tinyurl.com/kozrxzd)
I was privileged to attend a prescreening of this documentary at BYU in May and was deeply moved, particularly by “Mr. Lee”, the North Korean refugee at the center of the documentary (pictured praying in the above clip). I was struck by the power of his prayer.
Do we pray that North and South Korea will be reunified? Do we ever include such grandiose petitions in our prayers in LDS culture or prayer practice? I have rarely seen it, but why not?
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A few years ago I glimpsed over the shoulder of a woman sitting next to me on the Tube on my morning commute and saw the writing on her notepad. My interest piqued, I read what I could see, as Tube commuters freely do. I inferred from what I saw that she was a minister in her church and that she was writing an outline and rough draft for her prayer that she would be delivering as part of an upcoming service. The list humbled me when I thought of my own paltry prayers, focused so self-centeredly on myself and my immediate concerns. The outline included bullet points addressing current humanitarian disaster areas of global proportions (resulting from both war and natural catastrophe). But of course her prayer will not be focused on herself and her own immediate needs and concerns in a prayer she is preparing for the congregation in an upcoming service! This thought comforted me for only a split second as my mind turned to the exceptionally weak prayers that we Latter-day Saints offer at the beginning and end of our Sacrament Meetings, often the definition of perfunctory or, if they stray into more original territory, almost entirely focused within our own small faith community. Rarely, in my experience, have those prayers touched on big ticket items of relevance in current events — issues and calamities that one would think the Spirit would move us to include in every such congregational prayer.
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Not long after that I attended a service for First Advent in St. Paul’s Cathedral with my family. Although Advent is the season leading up to and preparing for Christmas, the liturgy for First Advent actually focuses on the “End Times” or the “Day of the Lord” and the readings are focused on the apocalyptic material in Matthew or one of the other Synoptic Gospels.
The prayer at this service was very poignant given the subject matter of the service. I listened as the vicar prayed for those embroiled in a long list of conflicts and situations of human misery, astounded at the sincerity of the prayer and the reality to which it was speaking. I had never heard such a prayer in the Church as part of the service, or perhaps at any time as part of a Church service in one of the many LDS wards I had attended.
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Is there a cultural bias in the Church against such powerful prayers? These are prayers meant to appeal directly to God for real and immediate assistance in specific situations of human suffering. The power of heaven is invoked; the faith of the congregation is joined to that of the one offering the prayer, and the meaningful petition is made for help in the specific situations.
The ideal for us is to pray as the Spirit directs. If such grandiose, real, meaningful prayers aren’t part of our worship, one could conclude that it follows that the Spirit is not directing it. (The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.) But the Book of Mormon provides a lesson on this in its description of the prayers offered by Enos. Once Enos began to understand that the grace of Christ was sufficient for him to obtain a remission of his sins (Enos 1:5-8), he began to offer this type of powerful prayer on behalf of the broader society, both his own people, the Nephites (Enos 1:9) and a hostile group, the Lamanites (Enos 1:11). These verses show that Enos felt an overwhelming desire to pray for the welfare of the people in his society, both friend and foe. Do we have such a desire as we step forward to offer Sacrament meeting prayers or family prayers, or are we too pre-occupied with our own immediate, technical needs?
Enos records that the Lord answered him that “I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith” (Enos 1:12). I believe that the Lord extends the same promise to each of us. If we have desires to seek the welfare of those suffering around the world, even in grandiose geo-political situations like the Reunification of Korea and the immense suffering endured day by day by the North Korean people, the Spirit will direct us to include them in our prayers. But some cultural practices might be obstacles to this kind of powerful prayer.
For one thing, we have an aversion to advance preparation of our prayers if my experience as a lifelong Mormon is any indication. The minister next to me on the Tube was conscientiously constructing her prayer beforehand, very likely with guidance and direction of the Spirit, but this advanced preparation was giving her time and inclination to focus her thoughts on certain big, important issues for which guidance from the Lord was direly needed, or simply alleviation to those suffering immediate deprivation as a result of it. She was processing her own desires of her heart so that she could identify what they were (including by jotting down bullet points). Did this provide an opening for the Spirit to direct her in what to pray for as she prepared the draft and then offered the prayer on behalf of her congregation?
Second, the absence of a formal liturgy places more responsibility on those praying to sincerely seek the guidance of the Spirit for prayers in our meeting. The vicar at St. Paul’s Cathedral was able to situate the prayer for First Advent within the liturgical context relevant to that particular service. This surely guided the prayerful contemplation of the content of the prayer beforehand — I would say that the guidance and input of the Spirit was given at that time. Does this make the prayer less a product of the guiding influence of the Spirit at the time it was read on behalf of the congregation at the First Advent service? In the LDS context, if a person called upon to offer the prayer has not contemplated it beforehand, is it fair to conclude that anything other than the perfunctory filler that is so common in Sacrament Meeting prayers will unlikely be spoken?
Finally, spiritual encumbrances might be preventing us from taking this step from perfunctory to powerful prayers. Have we obtained that understanding about the sufficiency of Christ’s grace to offer us a remission of our sins, as did Enos? If not, perhaps we are stuck at that level in our prayers. Alternatively, are we burdened by pride as we pray — a sincere prayer on such a grandiose topic might seem absurd. Who do we think we are to pray for the resolution of such a global conflict or disaster as the civil war in Syria, the divided Korea, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Darfur, Fukushima, or other such tragic situations? We might feel silly praying for such things as we stand in front of our ward or branch in Sacrament Meeting. That has been my experience as I tried this out, deciding minutes beforehand on one occasion to pray for those affected by the Japanese tsunami, which had just occurred. My preparation for such a prayer was virtually non-existent and as I said the words, I felt self-conscious praying for such a global concern so far away during a regular old, run-of-the-mill Sacrament Meeting. Analyzing the situation afterwards, I realized that my pride was getting in the way of offering a sincere prayer about such a situation — I was thinking more about what the members in the congregation thought about me in offering such a prayer than about those suffering in the actual tragedy.