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September 16, 2004
Q's cousin George and his late cousin's husband Carl. David and Maria and their children, what about them? Patti and Norman and Mary Jane and Pat. Sarah's mom and dad. Vicki and Peter. And what about Stephanie and her family? And I hear Mobile was hit. And where in Texas, and where, exactly, in Mississippi? Is that near Meridian? And all the dead and injured in Jamaica - were any of them Bishop Taylor's relatives? Or Kingsley's? What about Verna -- isn't she in Jamaica now, with her boyfriend?

Here, day after day of darkness and dumps of rain. Some flooding. Major inconvenience, for the most part, but not much more. But there: death and destruction, coming in waves, returning before the cleanup of the last onslaught is even half finished. Most people are leaving the plywood windows covers up, now, when the storm passes. Ready for the next one.

The Prayers of the People provide for the insertion of spontaneous intentions from the gathered congregation. People usually start locally: their own family members and friends who are ill. Their own sorrows. And then they branch out, begin to pray the headlines, this wave of storms always among them. And other faraway things: the war in Iraq, the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, hostages and the kidnapped.

What happens in prayer for distant sorrows? Is it like telepathy, like ordering something from a catalogue -- you send out your message and wait to see what arrives? No. No prayer, not for those who are far off or for those who are near, is anything like shopping. We don't order up happy outcomes from God. We can't return events if they don't suit.

Instead, we turn the small stream of love that flows from each of our own hearts in the direction of the mighty stream of God's love for everyone and everything on the earth. It is as if we stepped into that mighty river, and it swept us along, carrying everything and everybody gently and gracefully -- not cruelly, like a flash flood, but quietly. A river of blessing that bathes everything, always, but especially those in acute need. Everyone needs God's blessing all the time, but some of us know they need it right now.

We send out our prayer and we are joined to those who are far away, those we know and those we will never meet. Joined, whether we feel it or not -- my little stream of love, paltry as it is, is bathing them right now. And, if I will allow it, I am changed by this prayer: my reading of the paper, changed, my hearing of the news on the radio. I can no more ignore it than I could refuse to answer one of my own children if she called. Those who pray lose the capacity for both indifference and despair. Whatever we were like before we began.


You may wish to read more about prayer and the river of God's love in my Yes! We'll Gather at the River. Visit the bookstore at
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