One of the things that started child psychologist Robert Coles on his professional journey was meeting six-year-old Ruby Bridges. In the early 60s, Ruby was chosen to integrate an elementary school in New Orleans. For most of that year, she was the only student in the school. All the other children were kept home by their parents.
Each day, as she approached the school—always accompanied by U. S. Marshalls…. you’ve probably seen the Norman Rockwell painting of the scene…Each day as Ruby approached the school, she was greeted by an angry mob of adults screaming at her. She was six. The thing that struck Robert Coles was just how unfazed Ruby seemed to be by all the hatred coming her way.
One day, when Coles was at the school, Ruby’s teacher pulled him aside and said that that morning Ruby had stopped and talked to the mob. The teacher didn’t get very far in her own questioning of Ruby. Coles said he would talk with Ruby that evening.
Here’s how Coles describes the conversation. “Ruby, the teacher told me there was some trouble before you went into the school.” She said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, apparently you talked to the people in the street and you got them shouting even louder.’ She said, ‘I told the teacher I didn’t talk to those people.’ I said, ‘Well, Ruby, the teacher saw your lips moving, so as to say something.’ She said, ‘Well, I told the teacher I was talking to God…I like to pray.’ Thinking that she was praying for herself, I said, ‘Who are your praying for?’ She replied, ‘I was praying for the people in the street.’
“I was surprised and unwilling to drop the matter. I said, ‘Why would you want to pray for those people in the street?’ She looked at me and answered, ‘Well, don’t you think they need praying for? I always say the same thing. I always say, ‘Please God, try to forgive these people because they don’t know what they are doing.’” When Coles asked Ruby why she said those words, Ruby told him her parents and grandmother told her to say them… “Because Jesus said that when there was a mob in front of him. He prayed for those people, and that is what I am doing.” (Handing Each Other Along, by Robert Coles.)
Well, don’t you think they need praying for? She was only six, but little Ruby Bridges knew the importance of praying for one’s enemies.
As we enter into a time of confession, I invite you to take a moment and bring an enemy of yours to mind. (Pause) Now, pray for that person….if you don’t have words, just imagine God’s light surrounding them. (Pause)
Let us pray. Holy One, praying for our enemies is hard– so hard, in fact, that we often avoid doing it. Honor the halting prayers we offer today. And give us the courage to keep praying for enemies…just like little Ruby Bridges did. Amen.