Thursday, August 04, 2016

Guidelines, prayer and terrorism: For what else shall we pray?

  • Casualties figures in this list are the total casualties of the incident including immediate casualties and later casualties (such as people who succumbed to their wounds long after the attacks occurred).
  • Casualties listed are the victims. Perpetrator casualties are listed separately (e.g. x (+y) indicate that x victims and y perpetrators were killed/injured).
  • Casualty totals may be underestimated or unavailable due to a lack of information. A figure with a plus (+) sign indicates that at least that many people have died (e.g. 10+ indicates that at least 10 people have died) – the actual toll could be considerably higher. A figure with a plus (+) sign may also indicate that over that amount of people are victims.
  • If casualty figures are 20 or more, they will be shown in bold. In addition, figures for casualties more than 50 will also be underlined.
— from Wikipedia entry for monthly summary of the toll from terrorist attacks.

At morning prayer, after we pray for the Augustinians who have died, the presider will often say, "...and for what else shall we pray?"  It's the question that I face each Wednesday night.

I am part of the team that writes the universal prayers for  my parish's Sunday liturgy, usually writing a draft for us to work from every other week.  We cannot pray specifically for every thing, every week, yet we think it important to pray specifically for some things every time we gather for prayer, whether at Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours.

But which specific things?  Which weeks?  Do we pray only for the things close at hand? How do we listen to the needs of the world outside our own orbits?  The attacks in Nice and Normandy were impossible to miss, but how many of us can recall the horrific bombing in early July in Baghdad in which more than 300 people died?

Last week I was looking for the details of an attack in Somalia, which I had heard about., but couldn't remember when it had occurred.  Should we pray?

Which is how I found that Wikipedia has tables of terrorist attacks, one for each month, including one for the not-yet-begun month of August. Sortable by date or by casualty count. Bold numbers if over 20 dead. Underline when there are more than 50.  There was something so disheartening about seeing a blank table for August, and something so appalling about the guidelines to decide which horror was horror enough.

So for what did we pray?  For those whose lives have been wracked by violence... in France, Germany, Japan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia...and in our own cities and neighborhoods…

Now the list for August has begun to grow.  For what shall we pray?  And why?

"I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me."
— C.S. Lewis


  1. Each week I watch the news and pray, I watch and I try to compose a prayer that will do what it needs to. It grows more challenging.

    1. And we can never encompass all the needs...but we have to try.

    2. Yes, and I agree with you that our prayers need to be specific, at the same time that they are all encompassing.

  2. First, I Love the quote from C. S. Lewis. Absolutely accurate.

    Second, allow me a little bit of a soapbox for others who read this blog and may be authors of general intercessions. It is a pet peeve of mine which stems from a time maybe ten years ago when I regularly composed these prayers for my parish and learned from the priest who was our pastor. I know there is a tendency to want to be eloquent, which is fine, but too often people believe eloquent is equivalent to flowery, lengthy and obtuse language. Not so.

    The goal should be Simple. Universal. Heartfelt. In no particular order. And please, if "Lord hear our prayer" has become tiresome, please limit the response to 4 or 5 words so that everyone respond as a group. Consider the varieties of cultures in your church. For the traddies out there, this isn't about just making everything shorter, either. Consider the many people for whom English is at best a second language. The Pope, for example. Try to allow them to be part of the prayer in a meaningful way.

    I am not saying your prayers are not simple, universal and heartfelt. Just a general comment on what I think is a better practice in case someone is reading this.

    1. I don't think people realize how much of a challenge these can be to write.

      Short and bluntly heartfelt is also good advice! I like sharp and compact language with a bit of torque on it, but have to be careful about it in this context. What works well in writing, often doesn't when proclaimed once by a random lector. Wracked was a risk, in this one.

      My pet peeves are the passive/aggressive let-me-tell-you-what-you-should-be-thinking prayers, which tend toward the long and discursive. We've been also trying not to be terribly prescriptive about solutions. To avoid: Dear God, here is how we would like the problem solved.

      A friend shared this quote from Madeleine L’Engle with me and I find it apt to consider when I'm drafting:

      "We must bless without wanting to manipulate. Without insisting that everything be straightened out right now. Without insisting that our truth be known. This means simply turning whoever it is we need to bless over to God, knowing that God's powerful love will do what our own feeble love or lack of it won't. I have suggested that it is a good practice to believe in six impossible things every morning before breakfast, like the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass. It is also salutary to bless six people I don't much like every morning before breakfast.” from A Stone for a Pillow