by Rev. Dan González-Ortega, Ph.D.
Dedicated to the people of Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica.
Yes! Praying is already an act of insurrection! When we pray we evoke the memory of Jesus of Nazareth. Remembering Jesus is a resurrectional act. Resurrection (Anástasis) in biblical language means insurrection. We speak of insurrection because the God of Jesus is recognized as Lord of the world and of history! Empires are deeply challenged by the Lord who question their powers.
A Buddhist friend once told me once: “If we taught our new generations to meditate properly, we would eradicate violence in three generations. I, being a Christian, consider this as the possibility of praying properly for shalom to eradicate the authoritarian violence of the powers of this world. But as I said before, prayer is a revolutionary act. Prayer is action. Action for the shalom that is wholesome for all creation.
The faith of the New Testament and early Christianity was always an apocalyptic faith. Apocalyptic because it was an eschatological faith, truly eschatological! It was not “eschato-fiction” like that which today’s empires impose through religiosities based on the heresy of prosperity. An eschatological faith because pistis the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for emunah which means “firmness”. Paul of Tarsus, quoting the prophet Habakkuk, tells Christians that they live in the heart of the Roman Empire: “the just shall live by his/her faith (emunah).” Christians persecuted by the imperial powers remained steadfast in the face of constant threats of violence. They lived each day as if it was their “last day” with the hope of the Christ who comes through their actions of resistance to the Empire. And for that reason when they were gathered and shared the bread, with the wine and the prayers: they said they performed “liturgy”.
“Liturgy” comes from two Greek words: Laos and ergon. Ergon means service. And laos literally means vomit. In Greco-Roman culture, the term “vomit” was used to refer to the group of people who were not citizens, in other words, the demos. Laos was the marginal people like most early Christians. So, the eschatological actions of a community of resistance, encourage with hope by sharing bread, wine and prayers, were called “liturgy”.
“Liturgy” has almost always been translated as “public service”, but it is not the most appropriate interpretation. “Liturgy” was the work of slaves or women in the imperial system of patronage. In any case, “liturgy” was the “domestic service” that Christianity brought into the public sphere. “Liturgy” is the apocalyptically dignified service. “Liturgy” is worship in revolutionary service and resistance to the Empire that praise only “Caesar” and the slave-market system.
From this hermeneutical perspective working collectively on liturgical resources, as we have done in Latin America and the Caribbean on several occasions, Jamaica is an example, and results in celebratory experiences of community insurrection. Our experience is enriched by a very efficient methodology: See-judge-act-celebrate.
All of this in a liberating way as a frank challenge to the Empires of this world. We see the reality of our people as we actively engage with it. We judge under the light of Scripture and the prophetic example of Jesus. We act artistically by writing, drawing or making music from our new apocalyptic visions and dreams. And we celebrate the resistance of resurrected life because the imperial systems of death do not have the last word.
Yes, prayer is an act of insurrection. It is so, because it challenges the Empire from the margins of the world.
Thank you very much!