Praying with unwanted people

February 7th, 2023

Faced with pain that rips apart, we cry out in one voice,
intercede with us,
oh solidarity Lord.

Faced with death that wounds,
and marks with pain,
give us the strength of an embrace
and the peace that your love gives us.

Faced with injustice that kills
and cries out for conversion,
move us to transform the world
and let all death become a song.

In the face of desolation and crying,
faced with impotence and frustration,
come to our side,
sustain us with your life, Lord.

You are the God of the poor, the One who sows hope,
you are the God of solidarity, the One who gives love.

You are God with us, the Eternal, the Great I am.
God of the embrace, God of song, God who caresses,
God who strengthens, God who surrenders, God of action.

O Lord of Solidarity: Your kingdom come to the mourner,
lean your ear to the cry,
your sons and daughters are coming
to show your great love.[1]

A diverse group of about one hundred pastors, theologians, students, artists, and activists from various Christians traditions, churches, and walks of life from about fifty countries gathered together during 2018–2019 in four different countries on four continents, blessed and supported by the Council for World Mission.[2] They gathered for a common purpose: learning to pray with local communities in order to create liturgical resources for Christian communities around the world. This project is rooted in God’s demand for us to live a life of compassion, listening to those who are suffering and learning how to pray with them. We hope that, in the desire of God and the strength of our faith, we will respond to the challenges of our world today.

Challenges in Our World, Challenges for Our Praying

Many people are feeling, in one way or another, that the world is moving toward a difficult place, that we are moving toward an impending collective death. Inequality soars. The vast majority of people around the earth are getting poorer. As Oxfam says, “The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population.”[3] We live in a slow-moving catastrophe that doesn’t make headlines. Our era has been designated as anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene, or chthulucene.[4] Most of us humans, who place ourselves above any other form of life, are extracting more from the earth than it can offer, straining natural resources beyond the earth’s sustainable supply. Our planet is losing its balance. Global warming, melting ice caps, erratic seasons, droughts, overpopulation, deforestation, the ocean’s warming, extinction of species, death, and loss are showing up everywhere. Geopolitical configurations are marked by an expanding movement of migrants and refugees due to climate change and civil wars. Democracies are collapsing, social inequality is widening, nation states are dissolving into dictatorships with fascist leaders, public spaces are collapsing, fear is the political emotion of our time, various forms of destruction and violence are becoming normalized, and the consequences of an unrestrained neoliberal economy are thrusting us toward a place of no return.

What prayers are Christians called to pray during these times? How are we to pray as we are confronted by a world in collapse? While some Christians recite the ancient prayers in the midst of a church burnt by wars, other Christians try to find words to pray that make sense of the absurdity of their conditions. For the ways of praying that we are proposing here, the condition of our world begs for different prayers and different forms of prayer. As we witness the pain of the poor, the collapsing of the world we know, and the natural disasters around the globe, there seems to be no prayer that can respond to it all. However, we must pray anyway, and the way we pray makes total difference! Where should our prayers come from? If our prayers come from places of collapse and the debris of horrors, then what prayers may Christians offer to God and the world? That is what this book is wrestling with.

Learning New Grammar for Our Faith

If we are to pray today from real historical and social locations, from places of deep pain and places that are entirely foreign to us, we Christians must learn a new grammar for our faith. We must learn new prayers and new ways to pray.[5] We will have to look at tradition differently. We will have to delve into a variety of prayer resources to engage with the earth and other people more fully. We will have to be willing to understand other people’s lives, ways of being, and religions. Our prayers must learn how to speak of the trauma poor people face every day. Our prayers must teach us to reject altogether any historical construction founded in the unhappiness and oppression of others. Otherwise our prayers are something other than prayer.

As God’s voice in the world is expressed in our prayers, we are called to be radically converted in our ways of praying, to go deeper within ourselves, and to relate more deeply with nature. We are called to be radically converted toward forms of action that heal, recuperate, reconfigure, restore, and restitute our communities, the earth, and our social-natural systems. May our prayers be anathema to any form of government that sustains war, that oppresses people, animals, mountains, oceans, and the whole earth! Instead of being apart, prayers can reconcile us back into a deep sense of communities. And blessed be those who understand that we live in conjunto, together, with the same rights and responsibilities.

Composing a New Tradition to Breathe God’s Breath in the World

It is within our “anathema” and our “blessed be” that we compose tradition. This entails betrayal, a break with that which is harmful, and a rupture in our longtime habits and assumptions. But it also entails moving along with that which is important to our living. This form of living tradition goes beyond texts. The group of pastors, theologians, students, artists, and activists who joined in this project decided to hear firsthand what was meaningful for people living at the margins of the world and to compose a bundle of resources for the rest of the world’s Christians. In this way, our collection of liturgies is more a path, a journey into and from places where people are struggling, rather than a self-enclosed set of prayers.

Only a prayer that has its ear attached to the earth, its eye upon those who suffer, and its hands stretched out in solidarity can help us realize our distance from God and a world in flaming pain. If prayer is about loving God, then prayer is also about building a house for the abandoned, becoming a wall of protection for the vulnerable, and giving our life away for those who are at the brink of disappearance. This building of a common happiness and place of safety for those who are vulnerable is an absolute imperative in our world today. Fascism and white nationalism globally have become a fundamental power effect in our times. The de-negration of the world; of the poor; of brown, yellow, red, and black bodies; as well as of the natural world has become the global political process of necropolitics by and for the sake of white supremacy.

Against that daily threat to the lives of so many, Christians must build expansive practices of compassion and solidarity with those who have been deemed to die. We must realize our deep connections with all from the lower classes, all the poor—in whatever religion or color they come—and expand this solidarity to include animals, rivers, oceans, birds, and the whole earth. Only through that confluence of mutualities and belonging does our prayer become breathing God’s breath in the world.[6] In that way, prayers become a continuation of Jesus’s prophetic life, expressing a radical commitment with the poor.

Available from MinistryMatters

How Are We to Pray?

Our prayer book Liturgies from Below offers an alternative to both the traditional prayer books of Christian liturgies and neo-Pentecostal cultic prayers. It intertwines traditional Christian liturgies and neo-Pentecostal prayers. Based on a gospel insistence that we must get closer to the poorest and the abandoned in the world, this book is intended to help us pray with those who are suffering the psychological, social, economic, sexual, and racial violence of our times. Thus, the main question here is: How are we to pray with the unwanted of the world? How can our prayers not only address the disasters of the world and the killing of people everywhere but also, in God’s love, offer hope and actions of transformation? And in that way of praying, how do we get to the point where we can see our own vulnerability, our own incompleteness, our own frailty, and our own shakable ontological structure and impossibility to deal with life itself?

Once in a worship class, a guest speaker told my students that we needed to pray the established, written prayers of the church for at least twenty years before we were able to pray our own newly composed prayers. Does such a rule still apply? I do not think so. A new movement is required for this time: not to abandon the prayers of the church but to also pray new prayers in new ways, for others and ourselves, in a constant movement of God’s grace into an expansive mindfulness, transforming and recreating ourselves and the world. This will mean learning how to pray differently, to be faithful to Jesus in these devastating times by praying with and for the unwanted—those who are the “undercommons,”[7] including not only humans but also the whole earth and other animals, because their conditions of living are also the conditions of existence for all of us.

Through our collective prayers, with those who we are called to listen to, serve, and fight for, God calls us to live our faith in much deeper ways, understand our world in broader ways, and make a radical commitment with the poor in the name of God. Through prayers, we can envision a radical moral imagination of new worlds! By the grace of God, we can birth these new worlds through ora et labora—our prayers and our work in solidarity.

A lost voice. Squatting in my little street corner this very dark night. It is cold and the darkness is scary. Who can hold me—the hand of God. Is there a God out there? God, if you are there—if you can hear me, hold me through the night. I really want to sleep, but my belly is rumbling. Please don’t let them find me here, stop them from taking and hurting me. God—if you are there—hear my voice! [8]


Excerpted from Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the End of the World by Cláudio Carvalhaes. Copyright © 2020 Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

[1] Find many additional prayers from this project at



[4] Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, 2015;

[5] Paul Holmer in The Grammar of Faith shows how prayer consists of structural languages that shape people’s ways of being. The grammar of faith for him is marked by language of faith and not language about faith. Theology for him is done by the one praying and not a comment or reflection on proper theology done elsewhere. Theology is a personal event. He says, “Theology must always move towards a present-tense, first-person mood” (p. 24). Following Holmer, we believe that every individual prays from their own life experiences and through their own lives. Their prayers are the forms and contents of theology. In other words, theology happens in the moment when one is praying, with their self/collective presence, the conditions, quality, and limitations of their lives. When we pray in places of hurt and violence, our theologies pulse with sweat and blood, and a new grammar of faith ensues. See Paul L. Holmer, The Grammar of Faith (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978).

[6] Cláudio Carvalhaes, Praying With: A Christian Orientation of the Heart (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2021), forthcoming.

[7] Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013), Kindle Locations 26–30, Kindle Edition.

[8] Find many additional prayers from this project at

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