Praying from Below: Looking to our Roots
by Janay Salcedo-Kinsey
How are we to pray from below? We must look back to our roots, to our indigenous siblings and ancestors, and to the land in order to engage this question and actualize it in our orthopraxy. To pray from below is to examine the connections between poverty, systemic oppression, and the structural violence empire wages against the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those crushed on the bottom of imperial power. It is to examine how each of these are intertwined with the historical harm we have all done and the complicity we have all held in the violence against Turtle Island, La Tierra through settler colonialism. To pray from below, we must see how the violence against the land is connected to the violence against our bodies; one cannot exist without the other and the healing of each is both distinct and interwoven in the liberation of the other. To pray from below is to call out to Creator and to all Creation from a place of presence. It is to name where we are, the systems we exist in, the land we occupy, and the siblings (human and all life forms) we are in community with as we praise, petition, lament, or seek to dismantle systems of oppression in order to bring about change that pulls our reach closer to kin-dom. In these writings we will explore different but interconnected prayers, theological and ethical reflections, and questions that can be incorporated into liturgical and orthopraxis of communities of worship and/or individual practices that include the following: (1) Intercession Prayer for MMIW, Missing Murdered Indigenous Women/Non-Binary/Two Spirit Siblings, (2) A Prayer of Remembrance/An Altar Call for Decolonizing Our Understanding of How to Be in Relationship to the Land, (3) A Prayer of Anger Over the Violence Against Bodies, and finally (4) Reflections for Good (?) Friday.
*Trigger/Activation warnings and content warnings: Mention of police brutality and the murders of Black and Indigenous people, sexual violence, human trafficking.
Intercession Prayer for safety for our Native siblings, and Missing Murdered Indigenous Women/Non-Binary/Two-Spirit Siblings
Creator, we pray for our stolen sisters, non-binary, and two spirited siblings that are missing and murdered. May they be found, may their families and community’s sufferings be alleviated. Spirit, we ask you to move in the policies on the local, state, and federal levels so that institutional and structural violence against our indigenous siblings ceases to exist. May nonNatives honor the lives and bodies of our missing siblings; may we drop to our knees and repent of anti-indigenous policies and ideologies that have and continue to bring anguish and death.
May we commit to decolonizing ourselves and our relationship to Natives.
May the 5,716+ be found, and may there be no more stolen sisters/siblings. May America repent of romanticizing the first stolen sibling Amonute Matoaka (“Pocahontas” which means playful one) of the Pamunkey tribe of Virginia.
Creator, we pray for restoration, reunions, and reconciliation of missing siblings, and that the violent anti-indigenous ideologies and their normalization come to an end, that the homicidal tendencies of non-Natives against Natives is terminated.
May we never have to cry out for another stolen, missing, murdered indigenous woman/nonbinary/two spirited sibling again.
May we (non-Natives) honor the creation and holiness that resides within our Native and global indigenous siblings. Amen.
Prayer of Remembrance/An Altar Call for Decolonizing Our Understanding of How to Be in Relationship to Land
May we retire the ideologies of “This land is my land, this land is your land,” burying them in the same grave we dug for white supremacy and its family heirloom of colonization. May there be no reason to unearth the erasure of Turtle Island’s native people from our history books.
May Woody Guthrie’s rebukes of monetizing Native’s land for profit ring in our ears as loudly as we sing of freedom, justice and liberty for all.
May we remember we are in partnership with the land and not owners of it. May we remember that the land does not belong to us, but that we belong to the land.
Spirit, remind us that we are Interwoven. May we not miss the message.
Let us remember to pay our respects to the siblings that give us life, the trees who are our elders as their branches look after our lungs.
The plants who companion us with breath, their presence reminding us that there is still so much to grow.
The generosity of Land and the fruit of her mysterious labor. May our hands be worthy of this partnership, that we may learn to lay down dominion and instead grasp onto partnership.
May we submit to the children and flowers who teach us Presence and Curiosity. Who with their questions and noticing, give us holy pause, to smell the roses.
To the witnessing we do in our bodies, in our spirits and the opening of our hearts. Woven. May we not miss the message, or this moment. May we remember that we are woven together intimately with all of Creation. We are but one thread that makes us the braid.
People were sent to us. Did we see, did we hear their beckoning to come back to the way of before? Have we received the message? Are we ready to let go and become woven? We are here when you’re ready, with soulful tears, feeling alive in the intimacy that has been created, and witnessing the sharing of love with kin, saplings of hope grafted in.
Our world is connected by vines of thyme, with time to expand and remain connected in this braid we all have a hand in.
May we listen to the message of the trees, as their roots whisper to us from beneath the grass that they have been waiting for our return. May we return this time, and begin anew. Amen.
Prayer of Anger Over the Violence Against Bodies (all creatures, and bodies of water, and the
Creator, we pray for protection of endangered siblings in animal form. May we (re)learn or unlearn the relationship of dominance, of supremacy, towards our siblings.
May we clean our oceans, rivers, and lakes so our cousins the fish, sharks, whales, dolphins can swim and breathe freely. May we remember as we protest police brutality and the violent chokehold that ended Eric Garner’s life as he gasped “I can’t breathe”, that neither can they.
Creator, we as humans have put our aquatic siblings in chokeholds and brutalized their lives, their communities, as we have done to Black and brown siblings on land. May we recognize the ways in which we violently pollute their aquatic homes with our waste. May we repent and refuse to over-consume their bodies for our own pleasure unsustainably. Forgive us for not honoring their lives and for being the hands that cause their undignified deaths. Forgive us for being anthropocentric. Creator, may we learn to remember to honor ALL of our siblings.
Reflections of Good (?) Friday
I’ve always struggled with Good Friday, the language used and the celebration of a brown Middle Eastern Jewish man’s execution.
His tortured, humiliated, and publicly marginalized oppressed brown body reminds me so much of today. How it hangs with shame, carries the weight of an oppressive empire, is left on display for the public to excuse away at its injustice, like how white evangelicals will turn a blind eye as police brutality creates a genocide of men and women who look just like their Savior and utter “well, if they had just followed the rules then maybe this wouldn’t happen.”
The same sentiments I’m sure were said of Jesus. How if He had just followed the rules, fallen in line, kept His mouth shut, kept the peace, etc. All parallels that exists today, as they did back then. His limp body reminds me of indigenous Native women, Black women, Latina women disappearing at alarming rates, their bodies being sold as sex slaves, or as parts on the black market.
The wailing of Mary, as her son is taken from her by political institutions silencing a movement, echoes the sobbing of the black mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice as they too mourn their sons’ murdered, sparking movements. How a man that came from poverty, fighting for ethical economical systems that stop exploiting the poor in “God’s name,” had paid in costly solidarity. I wonder how many merch tables inside of megachurches He’d flip today as a prosperity gospel sells from on stage?
I struggle to celebrate today, as a fleeing, undocumented refugee meets His death knowing that it was coming, the same fear undocumented folks bury inside their stomachs that sprout into gardens of paranoia that ICE will come make an arrest, just like Gethsemane. An innocent man on death row awaits His execution; capital punishment hasn’t been put to rest today.
The forests are tired of carrying this history of holding up bodies that are limp. The trees cry out that their branches, bursting with life, were meant for carrying fruit. Instead we have buried our dead, traumatizing the roots, making the trees wonder if they’re next. I think of so many, and as
the sun (Son) draws near to the end of the day, their stories all feel like a piece of the cross, a tree stripped of its roots and branches.
I look up the definition of “Good,” and it spews out: “adj. ‘1. to be desired or approved of.’ ‘2. having the qualities required for a particular role.’” What am I approving or desiring that needs to die because it’s hurting, exploiting or devaluing others? What qualities do I require of myself to fulfill this particular role God has me in? “Good, noun. ‘1. benefit or advantage to someone or something.’” How can I acknowledge, yield and use the privileges, benefits and advantages I have to dismantle systemic oppression- empowering and equipping those whom Jesus died trying to advocate for. “2. that which is morally right; righteousness.” How do I seek, Become and educate myself in Becoming and doing righteousness, doing right by folks. These are the things I lament and ponder on Good (?) Friday. Good (?) Friday, I grieve and wrestle with you, and I invite you all to grapple in this too. Amen.
To conclude, to pray from below means to grapple with the inheritance of supremacy, colonization and violence, and how and where we find ourselves and all creation within these systems. To pray from below means to experience the Divine and kin-dom from the framework and experiences of those on the bottom of the belly of the beast. To pray from below means to honor our roots, even if they are mangled messes rotten with harm, that we name this and take steps, action and “pray with our feet” to mutually benefit and steward the land, and all creation so that if there is harm done, we begin the process of restoration and reconciliation through reparations and repentance.
- “MMIW – MURDERED & MISSING INDIGENOUS WOMEN.” Native Women’s Wilderness. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.nativewomenswilderness.org/mmiw.
- Mansky, Jackie. “The True Story of Pocahontas.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, March 23, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-storypocahontas-180962649/.
- “Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America’s Most-Trusted Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Accessed January 23, 2021. https://www.merriamwebster.com/.