Many years ago I attended an Episcopalian weekend retreat in which we were asked to do something unusual. We were given a piece of paper and asked to write on it a personal concern without giving our name, fold it, and put it in a basket. The baskets were circulated, and we were then asked to select a piece of paper from the basket, read the concern, and pray for that person. We were being asked to pray for a stranger. The paper I read was a confession of self loathing. I was distressed by it. I couldn’t imagine who, in that congregation, could feel so terribly about themselves. I offered my prayer into the community of prayers said that morning in the little wood chapel in a pine forest.
Have you ever prayed for a stranger?
Recently I heard the author River Jordan speak about her memoir, Praying for Strangers. You can find it at: http://www.riverjordan.us/books/praying-for-strangers/
Jordan says she embarked on a year of praying for others reluctantly. She had always seen herself as an author, not someone who wrote about personal experiences. Yet once she began this journey—of praying for one stranger each day for a year—she felt compelled to continue the journey and to write about it. She did so by resolving each day to walk up to a complete stranger, asking for the person’s name, then asking permission to say a prayer for them that night. The results were at times moving, sometimes funny, and often poignant. One woman remarked to her, “I’m so glad you asked me. I was just praying for others this morning, and I asked God if anybody out there was listening.”
Just for today, pray for a stranger. You may not want to walk up to a stranger and ask their name as Jordan did. Simply spot someone you see and make a mental note of that person. Or consider someone you have read or heard about in the media today who is in crisis. Tonight, at bedtime, say a prayer for them. I don’t know if praying has any demonstrable effect on the cosmos. We are sending out messages to the universe, like the Buddhist prayer flags. But praying for others does make us more mindful of the suffering of the world.. It keeps us grounded and keeps our own struggles in perspective.