I was surprised that the sight of her stirred such deep feeling in me—and in so many other people.
Fifty-year-old Wendy Davis looked so small standing before the Texas Senate last week in her pink sneakers, blonde hair falling softly around her face, filibustering to stop passage of a law that would have closed most abortion clinics in Texas. Her voice was so soft that I kept thinking, “That voice cannot last for 13 hours.” But it did.
She seemed so alone standing there. Talking. Talking. Talking. Always holding aloft in her small hands that bulbous microphone that must have became so much heavier with each passing hour.
Perhaps I felt so strongly because she had to speak for so long. Or maybe it was because the rules were so strict, strict enough to make her effort an ascetic ordeal. No water. No food. No breaks. No leaning on the podium. Continuous talking with no veering from the topic.
Her filibuster was like all filibusters. It was politics, public statement, a power play. My head knew that. But my heart was strangely stirred. I felt as though I was watching something rare and holy, as though she was making of herself a sacred symbol.
And then I realized that to me, her filibuster was prayer in one of its deepest, most powerful forms. It was a sacrificial embodiment of commitment. We usually think of prayer as entreaty or praise or repentance. We think of it as talking directed toward God.
Wendy told many stories of women’s suffering and fear. Did God hear those stories? And do they matter? Does God consider that human life begins the moment two cells come together? Or not?
I don’t know.
People who want to stop abortion are quick to publicly ask God’s aid in ending a practice that they think is murder. It’s easy to find examples of their public prayers. But people who believe women ought to be in charge of when they bring life into the world are less apt to pray their cause publicly. Many of those people are acting out of religious faith that is every bit as deeply held.
But praying that babies live is so much easier, simpler; so much cleaner and less ambiguous than praying that sexually active women will have choice.
I don’t know anything about Wendy Davis’ faith—but I do know that prayer is more than talk. It’s embodiment, action, witness. And sacrifice.
Wendy Davis’ entreaty, her witness, didn’t look as if was going to be answered. Her filibuster ended short of the midnight deadline when her opponents judged that she had failed to stay on topic.
But her words were a call heard by people all over Texas. They had crowded into the senate chambers to watch her. And when her voice was silenced, their voices rose so loudly that the votes couldn’t be heard.
The noise they made has been called a clamor, a disturbance, a hubbub.
Or simply call—and response.
This post was made possible through New Directions in the Study of Prayer, supported by the John Templeton Foundation and the Social Services Research Council.