“We want policy change, not prayers.” Immediately following the violence in Orlando, my friends’ social media posts made their priorities clear. They were unimpressed with the deluge of social media piety following the latest mass shooting.

As a gay man, I heard their plea: They saw prayer-themed hashtags and photos as nothing more than unwanted folderol.

But as a Christian, following the horrific news Sunday morning, I did what people of faith do best: I lit candles. A few others sent out tweets, we showed up in Dupont Circle and we lit more candles.

Our ordinary religious rituals are a spiritual emergency preparedness plan of sorts. We practice the fire drills so that when the panic of actual smoke and flame overtake us, we will hopefully remember where the exit is — or at least which direction to crawl.

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Just a few hours after I walked in Saturday’s D.C. Pride parade, Sunday’s attack on LGBT people in Orlando left me disoriented. Amid confusion, I revert to the spiritual version of stop, drop and roll. I do the only thing I can remember how to do. I light candles. I say prayers. I trust the process: Somehow the ritual will reorient me, ground me, do something.

As useless as this seems, it works. Or it will work, in time.

Rituals sustain us past the trauma; they remind us to breathe. For queer people of faith, rituals help us survive — because the next, most logical step isn’t always clear. There isn’t always a singular policy solution for the complex global intersections of religion, sexuality, gender and violence.

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And so, I continue the useless practice of lighting candles. And I stand there beside others lost in the senselessness and sadness, in the middle of Dupont Circle, outside the White House, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

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As the candles burn out, the uselessness of it all is most apparent. My friends were right; our candles have done nothing. The wounds are still there. The loss is just as real. But somehow, we have acknowledged the loss, and somehow, we have found our foothold, together.

Billy Kluttz is the evening services coordinator at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McLean and a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in the District.

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