“This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” -Mark 9:29
Dunkirk got me thinking: “Maybe God’s not a one-trick pony? Maybe Dunkirk wasn’t a one-time event but his preferred way of relating to his people? Maybe he’s just waiting for a people desperate enough, broken enough to ask him again?” I was, like Churchill, all the way at the end of myself (and that is, unfortunately, the end of what he and I share in common). We had been doing our best to be the Body of Christ amidst all this suffering—delivering groceries to the vulnerable, providing economic relief to the suddenly jobless, offering support to single parents—but the needs had outrun our capacity far quicker than we could even sort out what the real needs were. I was at the end of myself. We were desperate enough.
So I called every pastor I knew in New York. I recounted the story of Dunkirk at least 30 times. I had an idea: What if we prayed and fasted like that? What if 24 churches each committed to 24 hours of praying and fasting? We could each take an hour for communal prayer, we could fast the full day together, and see if God wants to make a way where there is no way. It was easier than I thought. Church after church, from every different tradition, said, “We’re in,” before I could even finish my sales pitch. We were desperate enough.
Holy Week It was Holy Week. That wasn’t planned. It’s just when it was all happening. We fasted from 7pm Wednesday to 7pm Thursday. Maundy Thursday: the day the global church remembers the sacred feast where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. My community took the 3am slot. That seemed like the worst hour—too late to stay up for & too early to wake up for. We are a mostly young community, & if you’re gonna lead, lead by serving, right?
My eyes were burning like crazy when my alarm clock went off at 2:55am. I rolled out of bed, splashed some water in my face, opened my laptop, & clicked on the Zoom Link. I was stunned. Scrolling though page after page of familiar faces, listening to cries for the miracles, prayers of deliverance. It was 3am, and I was looking at the most attended prayer meeting in the history of our church. The following night, we all broke the fast together in homes across the five boroughs, feasting & washing one another’s feet, remembering our Savior who came to serve. I was so proud of my community as I saw photo after photo of fathers washing their kids’ feet, roommates scrubbing between each others' toes, husbands dunking their wives' feet in a basin, all while someone stood nearby reading John 13 with a smile across their face.
“It’s not an act of God or anything, but…” I watched the governor’s press conference the following morning. “It’s not an act of God or anything, but…” That was his opening line. He went on to describe a dramatic and unexpected turn in the narrative. The statistics had plummeted—cases, deaths, & hospitalization all declined after weeks of climbing day after day. Those tents in Central Park never filled up. Very few patients ever had to board that naval ship in the Hudson. Our hospitals keep caring for the sick, but they’ve got enough beds now. Make no mistake: My city was & is suffering. There are plenty of families grieving, & I have a friend who lost his life to the virus. I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything. New York is suffering, still reeling. But the statistics have continued to retreat, too. And despite all the pain, which I’ve felt the collateral of personally, it’s not what they thought it would be.
It’s either completely ludicrous or utterly breathtaking to think that God may have acted in response to a few people skipping meals and mumbling hopes they only half-believed (at best). God acting in a decisive way in history, a way that affects real people with real stories facing real suffering, in response to a bunch of people desperate enough to ask him?
God bending history in response to something as slippery, as fragile, as weightless as prayer? That’s ludicrous, or it’s breathtaking. You decide.
Tyler Staton. Lead Pastor Trinity Grace Church Williamsburg