While prayer is always appropriate, it currently seems more so despite the lingering thought as to the value of prayer.  At times like these, prayer can seem like desperation, like an empty gesture, kind of like buying a lottery ticket with your last dollar.  Thus, I welcomed reading this today from Brian Doyle on why we pray.  The set up is that Doyle has just learned of the terminal illness of his friend, Pete:

“Do I really think that my prayers will save Pete, or cut his pain or dilute his fear as he sees the darkness descending?  Do I really think my prayers will make his wife’s agony any less, or reduce the confused sadness in his little boy?


But I murmur prayers anyway, form them in the cave of my mouth and speak them awkwardly into the gray wind, watch as they are instantly shattered and splintered and whipped through the old oak trees and sent headlong into the dark river below.

Did they have any weight as they flew?

I don’t know.

But I believe with all my heart that they mattered because I was moved to make them.  I believe that the mysterious sudden impulse to pray is the prayer, and that the words we use for prayer are only the envelope in which to mail pain and joy, and that arguing about where prayers go, and who sorts the mail, and what unimaginable senses here us is foolish.

It’s the urge that matters – the sudden Save us that rises against horror the silent Thank you for joy.  The children are safe, and we sit stunned and grateful by the side of the road; the children are murdered, every boy and girl in the whole village, and we sit stunned and desperate, and bow our heads, and whisper for their souls and our sins.

So a prayer for my friend Pete, in gathering darkness, and a prayer for us all, that we may be brave enough to pray, for it is an act of love, and love is why we are here.”

That last part, the “prayer for us all”  is worth repeating – “that we be brave enough to pray, for it is an act of love, and love is why we are here.”  So here’s the envelope – it is quite large and the postage is pre-paid.  (The flap is pre-gummed, so particularly in these times, don’t lick it!)  Fill it with the pain, the joy, the worry, with whatever, and send it on its way to the one who sorts the mail.

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