Another public official in the midst of a recent national tragedy was speaking, “We are holding the families of these victims in our prayers.” His words rolled out with a dreadful smooth familiarity, but his voice reflected the helplessness and grief he felt.
A family in Uvalde implored, “Just pray for us, pray that we can get through this.” Their child was murdered last week. We, on the sidelines of their tragedy, can’t know the depth of their pain. We can, however, pray for them.
These are days of prayer. Whatever religious tradition shapes our prayers, or if we have no tradition of praying, when we hear of another mass shooting in our country or another discovery of atrocity in Ukraine (or Ethiopia or ?), we might cry out, aghast, “Oh God! Oh, God! and discover it is a prayer.
Prayer is turning toward the One who is the Great Creator, the Divine Lover. In ordinary times, we might have a prayer practice, a time for attentiveness to the Divine Presence, but in times of pain or tragedy, we turn more desperately to God. We need a Loving God who is with us in our pain, whose Presence strengthens us to bear it and guides us through the suffering.
My songwriter cousin, Scott Schell, opened his latest song with the line God cries a river, a mighty river. It describes a loving God weeping over the brokenness of the world and the suffering that exists when humans choose to ravage and kill other humans. And when we grieve, our tears join that mighty river. The tears in our hearts are the prayer–we don’t even need words. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “When we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit, through our inarticulate groans, is praying in us.”
A woman of Kharkiv, living in the midst of war, told a journalist, “We are praying. What else can we do? We pray for peace. We pray for everyone, Russians and Ukrainians.”
I picture my prayers joining the prayers of the woman of Kharkiv which join all the other prayers around the world, a mighty stream of prayer that draws us into God’s own longing for peace and healing for the world. In some mysterious way we don’t understand, our prayers are a necessary part of the stream.
In my Quaker tradition, we sometimes say that we hold persons or situations in the Light. In my prayer, I am lifting them into the light of God’s love and healing. I sometimes picture those I pray for as surrounded by a powerful loving Light and absorbing from the Light the strength they need to “get through this.” The Light is a constant; my part is to uphold those who suffer.
It can feel risky to open our hearts to the pain of others and hold them in our prayers. It can be tempting to look away and be comfortably unaware, avoiding the pain of caring. And, besides, praying for others could change us in ways we don’t expect.
When we offer prayers for others, we are joining in God’s love for the world. Praying deepens our compassion, and we want to do something to help bring comfort to those who suffer. We want to work toward a better world. Praying for others strengthens us, and we want to help create the world we pray for.
When we pray for another, we embrace hope. We turn away from cynicism and despair, and open to healing and love. By praying, we are declaring our belief in the possibility of a peaceful, less broken world. in the midst of great discouragement and grief, we are choosing to join in the stream of God’s love.
Let us pray.
If this writing has spoken to you, please share it with another.