The Defiance of Prayer

      Ever since I began worshiping at Central Presbyterian Church here in Atlanta, Georgia, I have been enchanted by their three-dimensional prayers of the people.  For an extended period every year since 2008, the people who are Central Presbyterian Church elevate an estimated 2000 multicolored paper cranes which dangle from the sanctuary ceiling.  These origami creations are made by the congregants themselves and many of them contain the prayers that were on the hearts of their creators.  On the International Day of Peace, the congregation erects “A Wing and a Prayer,” and for a period of several weeks, the brilliant prayers of the people hover amidst the worshiping body as they literally lift their prayer to God.
        As simultaneously prayer and offering, the creation rises above the pews and grasps the imagination of all those who gaze upon it.  Often throughout worship, I find myself pondering the mysterious beauty of this congregation’s physical embodiment of prayer.
        Like any great piece of art, its presence evokes a diverse range of interpretations.  On some Sundays, I am intrigued by the fact that this congregation has embodied prayer in a very physical, tangible way.  The prayer was created by hours and hours of folding by the people of this community with their hands, the very hands God has given them to be the body of Christ in the world.
       Other Sundays, I am left in curiosity, pondering what each prayer says and I am forced to remind myself that God alone knows our every prayer.
      Yet another Sunday I might be fascinated by the fact that this “prayers of the people” is at once individual and communal; each person (quite literally) lifts up a prayer which becomes a corporate offering to God on behalf of the community that at once both speaks to God and speaks to us on God’s behalf.
        This Sunday, for some reason, I found a beautiful defiance in this prayer as I worshiped directly beneath its mysterious presence.  It is quite remarkable, I thought to myself, how this piece of art inspires a sense of awe while reminding us that we come together as the worshiping body to pray to God who alone is the source of all goodness and grace.  What is perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that we dare raise such a beautiful creation in the midst of what too often seems to be a dark and dismal world.  Despite it all, or perhaps because of it all, we lift our prayers to God.
                As Atlanta continues to serve as a hub for human sex trafficking, we lift our prayers to God.
    As the homeless woman tries to stay warm in the cooler weather, we lift our prayers to God.
                As senseless killings happen around the world, we lift our prayers to God.
                As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we lift our prayers to God.
                As we ravage this earth we were called to preserve, we lift our prayers to God.
         What a beautiful image of quiet defiance that we dare raise such beauty to God when we are surrounded by such grief and brokenness?  Such defiance is the voice of Jacob who refuses to let God go until God blesses him.  Such defiance is the voice of the woman who will not let the judge ignore her.  Such defiance is the voice of Paul who is not ashamed of the gospel.  Such defiance is the voice of John who dares to tell us that there will be a day when tears will be no more and God will have the final word. 
         So the next time you are in downtown Atlanta, stop by Central Presbyterian Church.  Lift your eyes upward and gaze in wonder at the mystery of prayer.  Dare to lift your own prayers to a God who listens.  Lift your prayer to God who lifts us from the depths of an empty tomb and raises us to new life in Christ.  And as your eyes traverse the whispers of our prayers, remember that we have never worshiped a God who is happy with leaving us alone.

Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.