Some time ago I was asked to talk about prayer, and I shared with how I go about praying each morning. In addition to my gratitudes and prayer for others, I have a set of a dozen key words that are prayers for myself, specifically, prayers for my capacity to be as faithful and present as I can be each day. One of these words is that I pray for is conviction. Following my talk someone specifically noted that he considered it unusual to pray for conviction, and with a “Hmmm” said "I need to think about that.” And I do think about what it means to live with conviction that I would like to share this evening.
There are two prime definitions of the word conviction. One is a profoundly held belief - the one I will write more about below in reference to my prayer. But the other definition is “a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense.” I remember reading a slightly smug question once asking “If you were to be arrested for being a Christian would they be able to convict you?” And I guess the honest answer to that question would be to ask the jury to assess you on how close your life and convictions aligned with the Christian faith of compassion, mercy and justice.
Which is what I’m trying to pay attention to when I pray for conviction. I want the basis for my faith and practice to provide me with sufficient clarity and integrity about how I want to live so that I do so with confidence, strength, grace and humility. The reality of life is that we are constantly tempted with ethical compromises. Gandhi wrote, for example, that politics without principle is one of the seven deadly sins, consequently those of us in the political arena are squeezed between practicing “the art of compromise” and maintaining principled standards and convictions about how to negotiate the spectrum of reality between right and wrong with integrity. And this is true, of course, about the whole gamut of life’s ethical decisions.
I personally pray for conviction because I am so tempted to ignore injustices, to develop a “whatever” ethic, to cynically believe it is not worth challenging the failures of the status quo. I of course can’t challenge every injustice I see either. What I mean is that I want to maintain a moral edge that ultimately does provide me the courage and confidence to challenge my own integrity, first of all, but then the courage of my convictions to challenge the integrity of a particular situation that I consider unethical or immoral.
It was on this basis that I once was able to look the commander of our local Navy base in the eye and say - with conviction - “I admire the discipline and pride you have in your Navy tradition, but your failure to acknowledge and stop the obvious harm to our people and community from the stunning noise of the Growler jets that fly over us is a betrayal of that honor.” And, on the other hand, I have been so impressed and encouraged these past two weeks by the conduct of the House committee’s hearing on the January 6 insurrection as an example of courage, conviction and honor by those who testified and the team of our elected officials.
I want to acknowledge, of course, that my reference to holding a solid and worthy conviction presumes a strong ethical base of supporting the common good. It is equally possible others can hold firm convictions that are antithetical to mine. So when I pray for conviction, I pray for worthy and forceful convictions that also need review and accountability in light of their service to the common good.
One of the foremost qualities of our Quaker faith is our willingness to honor and accept a broad range of non-creedal personal theological and religious beliefs and convictions, so much so that we often teeter on the brink of hyper individualism. We encourage each person to seek integrity with one’s own beliefs within the tradition of our testimonies that uphold peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality and stewardship as key references. And we also counter the inclination toward individualism with a strong bond of community accountability. We know that at any given day each of us can go too far, and we depend of community care and accountability to hold us in check.
In the chaotic cultural transitions and challenges in our world today, and in our personal lives, we would do well to examine our convictions as a means of providing a steadying gyroscope in our lives. What are your most steadfast personal convictions? What is their source? How do they help to align and guide your daily life?
Blessings and peace, dear friends,