Alicia Keys is right. We gotta pray.
Keys released “We Gotta Pray” following a Staten Island grand jury decision not to indict a white New York police officer for the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in a stranglehold. The Staten Island decision was the second decision in a matter of weeks that sparked protests and raised questions about racism, law enforcement and the administration of justice in the United States. Keys tweeted that she had written the lyrics sometime ago, but “the lyrics have never meant more to me than during this time.”
The video that accompanies We Gotta Pray conveys a powerful message about systemic injustice around the world in modern times. The video maintains a hopeful tone through images that depict prayer and peaceful protest. The inclusion of archival photographs of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Gandhi remind viewers that change is possible.
Taken together, the lyrics and the video communicate the message that all individuals have an extraordinary capacity to become agents for change, a change that begins in the heart with the transformation of one’s attitudes and behaviors.
The message of “We Gotta Pray” is a good reminder of the ‘reason for the season. During the Christmas season, goodwill, random acts of kindness and messages of “Joy to the world” and “Peace on earth” abound for at least a few days. But, in order to carry the Christmas spirit forward into the world, “we gotta pray” for that change of heart.
While the lessons of human history teach us that there is no quick fix to repair the brokenness of human relationships, a visit to a stable where a babe is laying in a manger may help to soften our hearts.
In the manger where the tiny, perfect, yet utterly helpless babe lays, we recognize that we too are vulnerable, and that we hold within our self a tremendous potential for goodness. Through the diversity of the group gathered peacefully around the manger, we experience equality and mutual respect. We discover the graciousness of God who welcomes and honors us without distinction based on race, religion or socio-economic status.
In the Gospel of Luke, the angels’ announcement of the birth of this extraordinary baby is linked to peace on earth and among people. In an Advent homily, papal preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, reflected on the relationship between Christmas and peace. With that little babe, a new age began for humanity. The coming of Jesus teaches us “the first peace is the vertical, between heaven and earth, between God and humanity. From it depend all other forms of peace.” This peace comes not only from the subsequent death of Jesus on the cross, said Cantalamessa, but also from the gift of grace that came into the world with his birth.
Grace and peace are the gifts waiting for us at the stable. These are the gifts that lead us to a conversion of the heart that will transform the world. But, we gotta pray.
Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.