How to pray after a devastating week

People hold hands in a circle during a vigil in a park following the mass shooting in Orlando last weekend.Reuters

It has been a distressing week. I sat in a prayer meeting last night and found it difficult to pray. While friends either side of me seemed to be pouring their hearts out, I couldn't figure out where to begin. Perhaps some of the things I have been feeling can help us find a way to pray during these difficult days.

I don't feel enough

The deadliest mass shooting in US history took place this week in an Orlando night club. To be honest I found the event numbing – yet another serious case of gun-related violence in the United States. The massacre was the 133rd mass shooting this year, the 15th in the state of Florida and the fourth in city of Orlando. The USA makes up just 4.4 per cent of the world's population and yet it has 42 per cent of the guns owned by civilians. The country seems genuinely shocked each time the power of the gun is abused. The US is polarised over Orlando because it raises so many hot button issues – gun control, immigration, sexuality, Islam – at a time where every one of them is played for points by desperate political campaigners.

So another mass killing, another hashtag: #prayfororlando. As I sat in the prayer meeting the words of a social media meme was echoing in my mind: "Prayer: something you do for victims of gun crime after they're dead. Because doing anything for them while they are alive might upset the NRA." It's a flippant comment, but it captures part of my struggle. Sometimes prayer is a substitute for action. Sometimes prayer is a substitute for politics. Sometimes politics is a substitute for action.

Lord, how do we pursue a more peaceful and safe society?

Lord give us compassion.

It feels like we are going round in circles

Watching riot police as they rounded up English football fans on the streets of France felt like we had gone back in time to the dark days of the 1980s where violence seemed to overshadow every tournament. Drunken fans shouting nationalistic slogans and punching and kicking each other is pretty depressing whoever is involved. English fans, French authorities, Russian gloaters. The myth of progress evaporates as I try to pray. I get a flashback to my school playground where racist bullying was sadly a part of every day life. No quantity of new gadgets and technological advances can cure human nature.

Lord, where is your grace at work in our nations?

Lord give us patience.

It feels like we falling apart

Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster of a queue of refugees trying to escape terror and disaster with the strapline "breaking point" – implying that if we remain in the EU our nation will fall apart because of an influx of immigrants – was one of the low points of the referendum campaign so far. The anti-immigrant sentiment from some has been pretty hard to stomach. The dream of multicultural Britain seems to have vanished. As does the heritage of a country which would fight for the rights of the vulnerable and the sentiment of a country which six months ago cared about children drowning. For the first time in a while I had to block people from my personal Facebook page because I couldn't cope with the anti-immigrant rhetoric that sickens me, not only because I am from a family who were once immigrants, but because as a Christian I believe in the intrinsic value of every human being. I struggle to respond with grace to my fellow Christians who have such different views from me. Next week we will see Britain's true colours.

Lord, when will we see reconciliation despite vigorous disagreements?

Lord give us grace.

It feels like the world is caving in

As the news reports of the savage attack on Jo Cox came in alongside the gracious tributes by her friends and colleagues, it was hard to imagine such a stark contrast between hate and love. A mother of small children with a long history of work in aid and development should never have been brutally shot and stabbed in broad daylight outside her surgery. Someone whose career was driven by such a strong conviction to speak up for the vulnerable and fearlessly advocate on behalf of refugee children, has been savagely silenced. Except that her message continues to echo. Polly Toynbee commented that the murder "occurs against a backdrop of an ugly public mood in which we have been told to despise the political class, to distrust those who serve, to dehumanise those with whom we do not readily identify." Writing only a few hours after her death, Cox's husband Brendan's response was incredibly moving and courageous:

"Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisionous."

This response in light of the ongoing culture wars that are spreading across the UK and the US offer a glimpse of a better way for us to live. To allow love and respect to drive out hatred and violence. The response from politicians has been impressive. Campaigning for the EU referendum is suspended. Other parties are not going to contest the seat that Jo's death leaves vacant.

Lord, why do bad things happen to good people?

Lord give us peace.

It feels like an opportunity for change

We live in angry times. There's rage boiling away that seems to have spilled over in all sorts of ways. Whichever way the referendum goes there are going to be some who are hugely disappointed and some who are very angry. The pressure cooker of an internal culture war in our nation is building up and I believe we the the Church have a role to play. We can learn from how people who claim no particular religious faith respond with grace and dignity, and make sure that we respond in kind.

When it is difficult to know what to pray, we can at least reflect on Christ's attitude in the middle of broken relationships and a culture infused with evil:

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.