“No truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.”
— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
There have been two circumstances in the last 4 days where I have walked away from a conversation and the only assistance I could offer to the person was my prayers.
I don’t – as a matter of course, tell people that I am praying for them. Sometimes, if I think it will provide them comfort I might. Generally, my prayers as I read the daily office at night, stumble and stutter out, always small and insignificant against heartache and sorrow.
My prayers are not magical. “From your lips to God’s ears”, we joke. Or at least I used to. I am no longer so arrogant. Maybe God will listen. Maybe it will make a difference, maybe there will be some help. Most often not. Almost always not. Things will play out as they will. My prayers do not change the future, substituting joy for pain. I am simply not that powerful. In truth, I do not believe that any of us are. My prayers do not order miracles.
We used to talk about “prayer warriors” in my old church, in my old faith. The very term leaves me slightly queasy now. What are you fighting for, with your words, in the closet of your house or in the front pew of your church? Do you think there is a battle ground and your prayers are a sword? Do you think your voice has the power to quell a typhoon? Do you think that God listens to you more than another of his children?
In my long term list – prayer for a family because someone is dying of cancer and will not last the month. For a young man diagnosed with HIV. For a friend out of work. For young men and women away at University. For the safety and security of pregnancies. For peace in Syria, in Egypt, in Darfur, in Afghanistan.
And what will prayer avail, I ask myself. Prayer does not change the terminal diagnosis. The young man will not become undiagnosed with HIV, a job will come when it comes.
At the end of all things, when I look back on my faith, on my relationship to God, on what I believe in the face of my son’s death, my departure from the faith of my childhood, I come back to a central point. I cannot give over praying for people. Often, it is the only thing I can offer to a situation.
That quote I started with – it is both true and untrue – in the way that all profound things are. What you have learned from tragedy will not help you in another, totally different tragedy, except this:
Where that tragedy is not your own, your own experiences form a pool of compassion and mercy and grace for others. Where tragedy strikes, you will never be able to look away again. And where tragedy strikes, you will be able to offer resilience and endurance.
And, in my case, your prayers.