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Why They Prayed

November 16, 2011

It was one of those moments when everything stopped. On the telecast, it seemed as if a hush descended on the entire stadium of 107,000 plus people. In one of the few unscripted moments that mark the liturgy of Penn State football, here was a sudden but welcome intrusion.

Both teams came to midfield, knelt down, and were led in prayer. Not a short prayer, certainly not a token prayer, but a heartfelt prayer. A prayer that acknowledged the victims of child abuse. That acknowledged the safety concerns of everyone present. That acknowledged the heartache of the previous week. That acknowledged the players who were about to play what they all knew was just a game.

But most of all, the prayer acknowledged God. It acknowledged that he is real, that he was present, and that he needed to be paid attention to. Because while there had been a lot of talk about Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier, and the football team the previous week, there hadn’t been much attention paid to God himself.

There’s something about sin in it’s most undeniable, awful, ugly, depraved forms that reminds us of our need for God, though. After the week we had here, the right response was to pray.  While people in other cities make light of “Tebowing,” there was no argument about two entire teams “Tebowing” here. The stillness that settled over the crowd was the realization–even if just for a moment–that God needs to be part of this conversation. God needs to be acknowledged. No amount of candlelight vigils or dollars raised can cover over our collective guilt. And so a humbled, shamed crowd , watching in person, or watching on TV, quieted themselves and acknowledged God.

I don’t know how long that moment will last. I know that after 9/11, many people were moved to go to church, but the following Sunday churches were back to normal. My suspicion is that it will be the same here. But at least for one moment, people acknowledged God. May that not be the end of it.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2011 2:21 pm


    Here’s another take on the same event:

    The dichotomy is interesting to me, since we pray admitting that we need God – but its seen as something that just reflects our own piety and self-elevation. I’m disappointed in Pierce’s stark and dark understanding of prayer, but I can understand the origin of his misconception, since the Pharisees around us and the little Pharisee inside us still prays louder than the meek, true disciple in the back of the room.


  2. November 16, 2011 3:31 pm


    The problem with this critique is that it takes one biblical statement/example but ignores others. It also misunderstands what Pharisaism is.

    Should we never pray in public? The prophets did. Jesus did. I assume you and I do regularly in our ministries. Is that a violation of Jesus’ command in Matthew 6?

    Or is the issue really about our motives in prayer? The Pharisee prays in public to justify himself, but the sinner in Jesus’ story was praying in public, but humbly and genuinely. The modern Pharisee can also condemn the prayers of anyone who doesn’t suit their tastes, whether it’s Tebow or Penn State/Nebraska. (I see the distaste for public prayer in any form as the Pharisaism of our modern, private, hyper-individualistic culture). And like Pierce, they can be pretty shrill in doing so. The moment you get all high-and-mighty about people’s actions, without dealing with the heart, you’ve become a Pharisee.

    I understood the prayer at Penn State/Nebraska to be of the humble, repentant, genuine variety. I actually saw it as a prophetic rebuke to those who sought to atone for our sins by crying “We Are (Still) Penn State.” It was a powerful statement that something matters more than football and Penn State’s image.

    I see Pierce’s condemnation as yet one more example of someone finding their worth and justification in saying “We Aren’t Penn State.” That’s just as ugly, self-righteous, and Pharisaical as anything coming out of Penn State these days.

    In that vein, David Brooks nailed it yesterday in his column:

  3. November 16, 2011 3:48 pm

    Thanks Steve. I noted on Friday night after the vigil that while that time was moving, it was a strage event to be a part of with no mention of God. It seemed that every speaker who shared that night was looking for a place of hope, but couldn’t find one anywhere except in Penn State itself. I appreciated that, if just for a moment, this prayer reminded Penn State, and the world, that there is a hope bigger than the university in God.

  4. December 9, 2011 9:03 am

    I am a former CCO staff person ministering on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Thanks for your blog article. The guy who prayed from Nebraska, Ron Brown, is a graduate of MV High School. Keep telling the students about how they can have a relationship with the Living God

    Jeff Winter

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