Today we honor the work of Vida Dutton Scudder. Born in 1861 to Congregationalist missionaries in India, Scudder and her mother were later confirmed in the Episcopal Church in the United States. She studied English Literature in college and eventually became a professor at Wellesley. But her love of scholarship was matched by her social conscience and deep spirituality. She joined both Christian Socialist groups and the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, a community devoted to intercessory prayer. As s socialist, she supported immigrants, workers’ strikes, and eventually, after WWI, became a pacifist. But her activism was also deeply rooted in prayer. She said, “If prayer is the deep secret creative force that Jesus tells us it is, we should be very busy with it.” She added there was one sure way “of directly helping out the Kingdom of God. That way is prayer. Social intercession may be the mightiest force in the world.”
As our Congress continues to shut down government, arguing over debt and health care, while crumbling all sorts of services and parts of the economy, I have been wondering where God is in all this. We get caught up in labels like Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, and heaven forbid, Socialist, and we use those labels as curse words. But I have always thought Jesus was not only a man of prayer, but a bit of a socialist – probably not unlike Scudder. You can imagine how excited I was this week when prayer and Congress started colliding in the news. The chaplain for the Senate has been offering some fiery prayers these last weeks, and his words seem to be not only reaching our Representatives, but also reaching across America.
What this chaplain, Scudder and Jesus all point to is the hope we see in our vision from Isaiah: a world where the wolf can live with the lamb, the cow and bear can graze together, and a nursing child can play over the hole of the asp. This is the Kingdom vision. But we do not have to wait for the Kingdom after death. Scudder’s witness reminds us that we can take steps to realize the Kingdom here and now.
Now, how we get there is a bigger question. We could be here all day fighting over whose party can do that best. But that is where Scudder’s life points us most helpfully – to the life of prayer. Scudder invites us to stop name-calling or stewing and to start praying. If we can be very busy with prayer, as Scudder suggests, perhaps we might liberate our feet to take those first steps toward the Kingdom here and now. Amen.