Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Martin Henry | Prayer’s over, time to work

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We've prayed - again. It's time to rise from our knees and get some work done.

Or more in line with current prayer practice to let go of each other's soft, gentle, clean hands. We'll need our fighting hand, right or left, free.

There was a time when puny little humans who really believed in what they were doing knelt before the Sovereign of the Universe in times of formal prayer, particularly intercessory prayer, in times of crisis. And The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, where the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast was held last Thursday, has nice, soft carpet.

Indeed, there was a time before kneeling when supplicants would lie on their faces before God in sackcloth and ashes. As Joshua (the original one) did when Israel faced defeat at the hands of a little tikki-tikki enemy.

But there is such a thing as praying too much. Bob Marley was not the first, or the greatest, to order, "Get up, Stand up!" "So the Lord said to Joshua", after Joshua's whiny hand-wringing prayer, "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face?"

Today, I don my preacher's hat and extend Rev Astor Carlyle's call to action at last Thursday's prayer breakfast. But along less familiar, less comfortable, but more direct, paths. Rev Carlyle sounded the trumpet for a general moral revolution, and called for a "circumcision of the heart". Which would have left the women out, even in metaphor!

It was we who invoked the Judaeo-Christian Father at our Independence, voluntarily offering to become His covenant people. Our National Anthem sings: "Eternal Father bless our land/Guard us with Thy mighty hand/ .... /Be our light through countless hours ... ."

There are universal spiritual principles at play in the life of a nation, principles that are not even tied specifically to the Judaeo-Christian faith on which this nation was founded by its own choice. Even atheists could concede these principles because they are anchored in human relations and human behaviour.

One, a foundational one, is that leaders, by their actions and inactions, determine the moral tone of the whole society. And I mean leaders of the state, political leaders, not religious or civic leaders upon whom we are foolishly thrusting the responsibility of setting the moral tone of the society.




Monarchy is virtually dead. Or so we'd like to think, ignoring the innate human craving for it and the popular crowning of elected leaders as royalty. Until fairly recently in history, people understood that the essence of the state reposed in the head of the State. The whole history of the kings of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament and the fate of those covenant nations presume this as a given.

What Democracy has done, and for the better, is to carve up the 'monarchy' among centres of state power with separation of powers for checks and balances.

The Constitution of Israel, the book of Deuteronomy in the Torah, sets out very clear 'Principles Governing Kings':

"When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, 'You shall not return that way again.' Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.

"Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel." [Deuteronomy 17: 14-20].

Earlier, a firm demand is made that "justice must be administered": "You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you." [Deuteronomy 16: 18-20, NKJV]

The corruption of constitutional covenant with the people (and with God) and the perversion of justice, despite the hypocritical pretences to the contrary, is killing this nation.

There is a justice ritual in chapter 21, quaint to modern eyes and ears but laden with spiritual principles of just government. If someone is found murdered in the fields and it is not known who killed him (a situation almost unthinkable in urban space; and think of the vast numbers of unsolved murders in this country since Independence), the elders of the nearest city should conduct a ritual of absolution and purification, absolving themselves and their city from blood-guiltiness and purifying themselves and their city from the contamination of unresolved murder.

"And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands ... Then they shall answer and say, 'Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, O Lord, for Your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people Israel.' And atonement shall be provided on their behalf for the blood. So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord."

Our leaders' hands are stained with blood for which the Macbeth ritual cannot atone. Perhaps only relatively very few over the years have actively arranged for the elimination of troublesome opponents. But all have participated in a system which has treated in cavalier fashion the wanton murder of tens of thousands of citizens and the cancerous spread of injustice over the land.




Injustice capped by the failure to protect the sacred right to life and to bring murderers to justice swift and sure. And they have the nerve of bothering God in the ritual of annual feel-good prayer meetings in a swanky hotel without doing anything for atonement and rectification. The prophet Habakkuk, announcing divine judgement against a wicked and unrepentant Judah, thundered for Jehovah: "Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, who establishes a city by iniquity." [2:12]

The architecture of the Jamaican 'monarchy' in which resides the essence of the Jamaican State is constitutionally clear: proxy head of state, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen; head of Government, Prime Minister Andrew Holness; Leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips. The leaders of Parliament in Lower and Upper Houses; leader of the judiciary, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla. Under their direction are members of the executive of government, the Cabinet; parliamentarians in the House of Representatives and the Senate; leaders of the public service, particularly in the critical areas of law and justice.

The Church has no legitimate or constitutional role in government and State, much as elements of it would like to.

We are sure, even without any recourse to any sacred text of any religion among which these principles are universal, that truth and justice and atonement for wrongs done against others have cathartic cleansing power, restorative and rejuvenative power. We pray too much. We deflect responsibility too much. We sidestep duty too much. There's work to be done. And there are people in positions duty-bound to proceed with the doing of it. We've prayed - again. It's time to "get up, stand up!"

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to and