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Forgiveness and Kesha’s “Praying”

What's the relationship between forgiveness, a pop music single, and prayers from the belly of a fish?

Kesha is a pop music singer who has sold millions of records. If her name isn’t ringing any bells, it might be because we haven’t heard much from her musically for the past four years. During those years, she’s been silenced by legal disputes, alleged abuse by her former manager, and depression. But now she’s back on the musical scene with a new single titled “Praying” — which, of course, catches the attention of the spiritually minded folks with Rethink Church.

Kesha released a letter of explanation alongside the single. She describes her song being about hopes for healing. It’s a song of empowerment as Kesha found healing not merely in praying for herself, but in praying for others — even those who have hurt her. “One thing that has brought me great relief is praying for those people.” Her prayer is that they, too, can heal.

The accompanying music video is laced with religious imagery, though Kesha herself is reluctant to identify with any specific religion or denomination. One striking, recurring image is the tail of a whale. It is a reference to the Biblical story of Jonah.

Jonah was a man called by God to ask repentance of others and announce to them God’s forgiveness. Problem was, Jonah didn’t want to do that. He did not feel ready to announce forgiveness to those who were responsible for pain and suffering. So Jonah ran away. As the story goes, Jonah was cast off of a boat and swallowed by a giant fish (often assumed to be a whale, which isn’t a fish, but try telling that to ancient taxonomists …). Jonah lingered in the belly of the fish, presumably enclosed in darkness, doubt and not a little bit of discomfort. After three days, he offered a prayer to God admitting he was willing to go call for repentance and offer forgiveness. With his prayer, Jonah was freed from the dark belly of the fish.

It’s not dissimilar from Kesha’s story. Jonah and Kesha both found freedom in opening up to the idea of forgiveness.

Neither story ends with full reconciliation. Kesha’s lyrics imply that the person she is praying for is far off: “I hope you’re somewhere praying.” Jonah’s story ends with him displeased about the mercy God granted to others (he figuratively goes back to the belly of the fish). But that does not mean there hasn’t been resolution. In Kesha’s case, she recounts finding peace in coming to feel empathy for others, “even if they hurt or scare you.”

Both stories testify to the effect of prayer as we see both Kesha and Jonah changed through prayer. For both, prayer delivered release from places of darkness and discontent. Prayer brought them to places of acceptance. Prayer offered them peace when situations were beyond their control.

For many, forgiveness seems beyond personal control, especially when the other people involved continue their hurtful behavior or refuse to acknowledge the hurts of the past. If you’re struggling with forgiveness, might prayer be a first step? Could you pray for those who have hurt you? What might it mean to apply Jesus’ recommendation to “pray for those who persecute you?”

Or are you struggling to feel forgiven? How might prayer express healing? How could prayer open us up to our need to be forgiven?

Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan serves as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.

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