It was last summer that I prayed for someone I had never before included in my prayers. My cousin Tim, son Alan, and I were in Pittsburgh for our fifth annual "Three Stooges at the Pirates" baseball vacation. A number of rituals are standards on our agenda, most involve eating: Pamela's for breakfast, Oyster House or Wholey's for fish, up the Incline to Mount Washington to J & J's for another breakfast, and of course the famous sandwiches and a beer at Primanti Brothers. That summer we added something new: Noon Eucharist at Trinity Cathedral downtown. (In the cathedral's basement is the Franktuary restaurant where, of course, we had hot dogs and sausage for lunch).
The Eucharist crowd was sparse, the three of us, a couple of homeless folk (I assumed homeless due to their pushing carts of belongings), two ladies from the church office, and a guy who looked like he might work in one the upscale offices nearby. And, the priest, up there in years and obviously well-versed in the ritual. He gave a short but meaningful homily, which I confess I don't remember. What I do remember were some brief words prior to his final blessing. He told us to pray for those dear to us, especially for our mothers as it was the Holy Day of St. Mary the Virgin. But then he pointed to us (actually, with his arthritic finger, he was pointing to one of the biblical characters on the side stained glass window -- but I knew he was pointing at me), and he said, "Pray for those people who probably do not have anyone to pray for them." Then, he blessed and dismissed us.
We agreed that the service was a neat thing to do and consensus was that Eucharist should get on the permanent agenda.
We talked a bit about the priest's closing admonition to pray for those who might not have anyone to pray for them, acknowledging that none of us had thought of that before. We realized that if any of us has a need there are many we can call on for prayers. A phone call to a key person can set off a prayer chain that might cross the country. How often we might get an email with the subject, "Urgent Prayers Needed!", with a plea for prayers about an immediate, serious problem. We realized how blessed we are to have church and other communities where we can receive and ask for prayers ... something we treasure, but perhaps take for granted. The old priest opened our eyes: how many out there -- people we might see every day -- may not have anyone to call on for prayer or simply do not have anyone who cares enough to pray for them.
But, lunch at the Franktuary, a nap, and prepartion for the next ballgame moved thoughts of the unprayed-for to the backburner.
The ballgame that day was a late afternoon one, so afterwards we walked to Market Square just to hang out, BS, and enjoy an August evening in the city. Near the square, I looked into an alley, and in a dark corner a young African-American man and about-the-same-age Caucasian woman were in intense conversation. Nothing violent or threatening, but intense.
After an hour or so of enjoying doing nothing, we decided to call it a day (a good day) and walked back to the hotel (that year Priceline™ got us a hotel just across the street from the ballpark). On the way, I looked back into that alley, and the two were still there in spirited conversation.
In bed, I read my psalm for the evening and turned off the light. Alan still had ESPN on the TV, but I started hearing the words of that old priest. I said a prayer for those kids in the alley. Not sure what I prayed, but it was probably something profound like, "Watch over those two kids in the alley." I added some usual prayer stuff, thought about where we might have breakfast in the morning, and fell asleep.
Since then, when I remember, I pray for those who may not have anyone to pray for them. At the Morning Prayer service I attend, we often offer the same prayer during the time for individual prayers, thanksgivings, and intercessions. Many evenings, I'll think about and say a prayer for those two kids in the alley. (They weren't there this year when we returned to Pittsburgh, but I did look down that alley.)
I'm not sure what my prayer for these unknown people does ... I mean beyond what prayer does do. (Prayer itself is probably the part of my faith I least understand.) I don't think I do it out of a feeling of superiority, as in how good it is of me to pray for those unknowns. Actually, the feeling is more that it's a privilege, that they have allowed me to pray for them. And, it gives me a sense of "we're all in this together," we are all part of the human family and we have the privilege to pray for one another. (More about this an upcoming Part II.)
Sometimes it is easy to pray for those we don't know in other countries or where a disaster has occurred. But, look around. There are those nameless people we see every day. I sensed the old priest's arthitic finger was pointing at me. The way it was bent, it could have been pointing at any of us.