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Gulf Spill Seeps Into Spiritual Life

posted by mconsoli

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Twice a day, precisely at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., alarms ring on dozens of cell phones, alerting those participating in the Rev.
Jim Woodard’s week-old Internet prayer initiative to spend one minute praying for relief from the BP Gulf oil spill.
In Meraux, Cesar Lopez rises each morning at 4:30 a.m. and says the rosary, as he does every day, remembering especially to pray for relief for families stricken economically by the spill.
And in Violet, a coalition of Christian pastors has begun laying plans to pray with out-of-work fishers at least three mornings a week in Shell Beach, Delacroix and Hopedale as the men gather before dawn to learn whether BP will put them to work that day.
“Whatever BP decides to do, that’s down the road,” said Brandy Shelton, who lingered after the service last Sunday (June 6) at Christian Fellowship in Violet.
“Right now, the only thing I can do is stay in faith with those families and pray for them. And if our church is doing anything for them, to assist in that way.”
Around southeast Louisiana, people who know nothing of the daily technical battle to stem the spill, including many who do not have family or friends yet affected, nonetheless say that concern about the oil spill has landed heavily in their interior lives, where they pray quietly in search of understanding or ask for comfort for themselves or others, according to the dictates of their faiths.
In churches, especially in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, the spill weeks ago found its way into every message and homily, as pastors seek to give it meaning, encourage parishioners in the face of hardship, or summon them to good works.
And the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked Muslims around the country this week to include special prayers for oil spill relief in their Friday worship services.
“You hate to beat a dead horse,” said the Rev. John Arnone, who pastors two Catholic parishes in St. Bernard, one of them with a substantial number of hard-hit fishing families. “You’ve got to mention it, even though it’s on everybody’s mind. You don’t want to wear them down, but we have to be mindful that we are here to support one another. That’s why I keep doing it.”
On Memorial Day, a team of evangelical pastors motored out onto Lake Borgne and prayed together, asking God for relief. One of them, the Rev.
Jim Jeffries, said they poured salt over the water, commemorating a biblical act of healing by the prophet Elisha.
Woodard, who spent decades working as a land company manager in the oil patch around Venice before founding The Crossroads church in Belle Chasse eight years ago, said a particular Scripture passage rang in his mind as an appropriate response to the spill, whatever the oil industry engineers do.
Woodard has launched a website, www.prayforourcoast.org, urging readers to consider Chronicles 7:13-14, in which God promises to heal the land if people turn to him in prayer.
“I know people are already praying,” Woodard said. “I’m not downplaying that. But I thought, what would happen if we focused all that? What would happen if we got people to stop, twice a day, and pray about this?”
“The idea of expecting God to intervene and heal something as messed up as this is asking something foreign to a lot of people,” Woodard said. “Frankly, I think he’s in the miracle business, and this is a great opportunity.”
After Hurricane Katrina, some Christians — vocal, but largely out of the mainstream — proclaimed that the storm was God’s punishment of New Orleans for a range of public sins ranging from racism to Mardi Gras.
And in recent weeks, in some places around the country, some Christians and others have interpreted the spill as evidence of human arrogance, or as a sin of negligence against the gift of creation.
But in St. Bernard and lower Plaquemines parishes, where oil and seafood are the twin economic engines, few claim to detect any divine message behind the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, the deaths of 11 workers and the rig’s subsequent fouling of the Gulf of Mexico.
“If you ask 10 Christians, you might get 10 different answers,” said the Rev. Keith Stone, an evangelical pastor whose Louisiana Healing Center was organizing help to fishing families, one of many faith-based aid efforts in the region.
Stone is part of a coalition of St. Bernard evangelical pastors who have coordinated a food giveaway, as well as the continuing early-morning ministry to fishers hoping to go out and work the spill.
The relief efforts complement those of Catholic Charities, which has established four centers in South Louisiana handing out food, grocery gift cards and other aid.
Even so, “my first response is prayer,” Stone said. “Then, what can I do to help someone else in their time of need.”
If the meaning behind the spill is inscrutable, what many residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines do know is that Hurricane Katrina taught them that faith will help them endure this, too — although how is yet unclear.
Katrina smashed both parishes. Five years later, a conservative estimate is that half of St. Bernard’s 65,000 people have not returned — and those who did reclaimed their homes only through unyielding tenacity.
“With Katrina, when we first came back, everything was devastated,”
said Phyllis Diecidue, a curriculum specialist with the St. Bernard parish school system.
“So many people looked around and said, `How can we rebuild? How can we ever come back?’ But faith in God is what got us through this.
“I think God is going to prevail. To some (families) it doesn’t seem like that, and I can understand that. I can sympathize,” she said.
But that will happen, Diecidue and others said, in the sustaining aid neighbors will extend to one another in the midst of government and corporate red tape.
“He’s the same God who came through for us after Hurricane Katrina,” Shelton said.
“If he did it then, he can do it now.”
By BRUCE NOLAN
(Bruce Nolan writes for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.



  • Heretic_for_Christ

    When churches reach out to help people–with material aid and spiritual support where needed–I see that as God in action. I also see God in action when non-religious individuals and groups offer aid and support in difficult times. What matters is not our religious affiliation but our acts, for those are the fruits by which we are known.
    On the other hand, when church members pray for miraculous deliverance from a real-world problem, I can only shake my head in sad wonderment. Do they think God is waiting for enough people to pray in just the right way and do just the right rituals, and then maybe he’ll bestir himself to take action? Or that God wants the spill to get worse by a certain degree and then he’ll snap his fingers and make it go away? Or that this marks the start of the “end times”? Are these the same people who think tsunamis and earthquakes are really punishments or tests or warnings from God? This is a view of God as a vain and capricious tyrant–it may be wrapped up in piety, but it is blasphemy all the same.

  • cknuck

    Yeah yeah yeah prayer is useless and God should adhere to our thoughts and plans. The very same people that are praying are helping with no help from your relentless criticism. If you put any effort into helping your endless complaining about Christians might carry at least a little credibility.

  • cknuck

    We have been involved in the Gulf area since Katrina and we are still there. We did a prayer summit for the disaster because we believe in prayer and we having been pouring out of our resources to build, feed, heal and care, we are distinctly Christian, we serve all and I am so tried of cheap creeps critiquing from their do noting but criticize from their stupid Christian hating perspectives. If they did something they wouldn’t have time to complain and probably would gain a comradery with other people in the field and forget differences of who is Christian and that they pray and do more doing and less complaining. The people I meet in the field rarely speak poorly about any other group as a matter of fact I cannot remember one negative conversation while serving.

  • Confessoressa

    cknuck,
    You completely missed the point of H4C’s comment which I found to be very well-stated. Are you so ignorant that you don’t recognize there are different forms of prayer? For someone who complains as much as you do, maybe you aren’t getting much done, hmmmm?
    Now, get your retort out of the way, and go put on that cape you’re so proud of, because we all know you’re soooooo busy doing good works, or maybe that’s just talk and the people really acting don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about the deeds they do as it is to do them.

  • nnmns

    These people come through Katrina for themselves and think it’s a god’s doing. I have no doubt in some cases the psychology helped but it is psychology.
    I have no fault with their praying. They’ve been told their whole lives prayer works and suddenly greed and carelessness and bad luck have put them into a really terrible situation that it turns out humans can’t fix. [It's incredibly stupid to allow companies to risk creating giant problems no one can fix, but we do.]
    So it’s natural to turn to prayer. Prayer for a miracle, like the oil suddenly disappearing, is probably mostly done in small groups because few people even among the “faithful” expect something like that to work. Experience teaches praying for an actual miracle in the physical world just doesn’t work.
    The sustaining aid people give people is, in fact, people helping people. Churches encourage that and increase it and that’s a good thing, and praying together can encourage it. That’s psychology; it doesn’t mean there’s a god.

  • cknuck

    confess in your zeal to attack my points on Christian service you assert your assumptions that I am unaware of different types of prayer, (wrong assumption, same motive) I am clearly stating only God can judge our prayers and that folks like both you and H4C ought to get out of the prayer judging business.

  • cknuck

    Nnmns your post is more palatable than usual I am happy that you don’t think that Christians are stupid in their prayers. I think that took some thought on your part.
    Your quote here works “The sustaining aid people give people is, in fact, people helping people. Churches encourage that and increase it and that’s a good thing, and praying together can encourage it. That’s psychology; it doesn’t mean there’s a god”
    For you it is psychology that folk will help because of prayer, I can accept that reasoning and it is part of it. For me knowing human nature I know it is God that keep us in the region long after the psych is gone.

  • pagansister

    As long as the folks who are praying while they are also helping themselves and others, “prayer works”. Isn’t there an expression I heard since I was little…”God helps those who help themselves”. That, IMO, works here.
    It’s going to take a lot more than prayed, however, to get this increasing disaster taken care of. What a horrible, horrible mess on all levels!

  • cknuck

    excellent deduction God does help those who help themselves. In this deduction we must consider the fact that we have the abilities to correct our mistake here. I’ve always been of the thought that God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves. So far people (including Obama) have been approaching this situation with the wrong focus. They have been looking at this as a B.P. problem when it is a world problem and as such all of the resources of the world community should be directed toward the solution. It is a opportunity to exercise unity.

  • cknuck

    I forgot to add we Christians while we are doing the doing pray for strength, don’t judge our prayers unfairly.

  • pagansister

    Yes, cknuck, it is more than our problem….it effects us in the U.S. directly, (shorelines, jobs etc.) but ultimately …the impact will be on the rest of this little planet.

  • nnmns

    cknuck I responded positively to your positive response, but it was held for the blog owner and still hasn’t been released. Just thought I’d let you know.

  • http://ballsvideo.blogspot.com Lowell Root

    Heh am I actually the only reply to your incredible article?!?

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