How easily could God, if He so willed,
Set back the world a little turn or two!
Correct its griefs, and bring its joys again!
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Today we will offer our condolences and prayers on social media. I suppose that means different things for different people. I will intercede on your behalf. I will say your name before bed, or before meals. I will be thinking of you. Your loss will be on my heart and in my mind all day, the taste of it, the sick feeling in my gut, the oppression. But I will have no idea what it is really like to suffer your particular suffering. My compassion and empathy are genuine, but will only go so far because of the distance, and because it will interlace with fear—my own vulnerability and weakness.
It wasn’t until quite a few years after my husband died that I began to tell people again, “I will pray for you.” I never wanted to utter those words truthlessly, and in the early years I knew that was all they would be if I said them.
I do not pray paragraphs of poetic words. I do not worry aloud. Or bargain. It doesn’t mean that I believe I have a power that others do not to somehow connect with God.
“Did you talk to God about it?” my 95 year old spiritual director would say. So sometimes it’s a conversation. Sometimes in writing. Often it is just speaking names aloud throughout my day, while I walk, or when they come to mind. Sometimes it is reading the names on a handwritten list I keep. Many names have been crossed off that list in recent months. They were not healed. They did not get better. I put one line through her name, replace it with the family members. It is they now, who need to be remembered.
“I will remember you in my prayers.” Not forgetting. Bearing witness to someone else’s pain without looking away.
I started to pray again when Audrey entered kindergarten in the wake of Sandy Hook. It was instinctive—the way you would shield your child from harm. I found myself on my knees after dropping her off in the morning without thinking, and mostly just saying, “Oh God, oh God.” That was it. It was an understanding.
Many will say that we don’t need “prayers.” We need action. We need change. This is true too. But prayers do not have to be paltry. They speak of remembrance, connection, hope, and above all, love. And why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another? I can only answer with the return question, “Why should my love be powerless to help another?” George MacDonald