When Action is Prayer


“For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”  Abraham Heschel [1]

When does action become prayer?

Fifty-four years ago today, thousands of marchers crossed over the bridge from Selma and made their way to Montgomery, Alabama.   Only a month earlier they were bludgeoned by local law enforcement as they attempted to cross.   On the second attempt, they were ordered to turn back.

Fifty-four years ago today, marching in the front and arm and arm with Dr. King, was his friend and colleague, Abraham Heschel.   As they marched step in step with the others, Heschel likened their actions to prayer.

During this Lenten Season, I’ve thought much about the necessity of action…when it would be far easier to just pray.   Don’t get me wrong.   Prayer is wholly essential in our covenanted life.    It is our sustenance, our guide and at times, the anvil that decisively shapes us.

But I can’t tell you the number of times I’d rather not act at all, and thereby, not bear the cost of putting myself on the line.  Being good at self-justification, invariably I manage to come up with any number of reasons for why action is unnecessary.   Believe me – throughout my adult life – I’ve become adept at this line of reasoning.

Why should we have to bear the cost, endure the discomfort, and put ourselves on the line?

During this Lenten Season, what if Christ is calling us beyond the notion that faith is only a “spiritual” undertaking?  By professing to follow Christ, what if we are making a statement about our whole selves – our feet and arms as well as our lips?  What if Christ asks us to “bear his cross” [2] so that current and future generations need not bear the burdens we’ve unjustly placed upon them?

What if you and I are being actively summoned to bind up the wounds of all of God’s good creation – and in so doing – let this be our prayer?


Image from Dancing with the Word, an online resource

[1] from the Writer’s Almanac, March 21, 2019, (Prarie Home Productions, 2018)

[2] Jesus’ directive as found in the Gospels of Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23, “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them [renounce self-centeredness] and follow me.”



Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

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