Increasingly I find it a spiritual challenge to reconcile the enormity of world problems with my customary practice of faith, both individual and communal. How to pray or what to pray for in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon, Superstorm Sandy, the Steubenville rape case, just to name a few recent events that point to much larger realities of hatred, violence and intolerance, and disregard for the earth. Numerous other situations and events could be added — from the civil war in Syria to mountain top removal in Kentucky, as well as the sufferings of our own family and friends. Always these matters lurk in the shadows, a backdrop of recurring worry.
Is it right to pray for rescue from God when so many circumstances are of human making, especially where the environment is concerned? Might some form of repentance or lament be appropriate? I experience an urgency that seems to invite something different but have been unable to articulate just what.
A small way forward came via an online course on contemplative prayer through the Shalem Institute that I recently began at the suggestion of a friend. A keystone of the class is to set aside 20 minutes a day for silent prayer, and much of the content is focused on how to be most open and receptive for that period of time. In her welcome video for the first lesson, facilitator Carole Crumley offers a suggestion, almost as an aside, that really caught my attention, perhaps because allows me to name what is in my heart with few actual words:
“Know that you can dedicate the fruits of your prayer for the well-being of someone else or some place in the world in need of God’s tenderness and mercy. . . .To do this, offer a short prayer of dedication and let that prayer be carried gently on your breath.”