In Part I (See Part I), I reflected on an old priest's closing admonition after Eucharist while I was visiting in Pittsburgh, "Pray for those people who probably do not have anyone to pray for them." The priest's words caused me to think how often many of us ask others to pray for us and are on the receiving end of requests for prayers for others or their loved ones. Having prayer-ready friends is a special gift of community, especially of faith communities.
But, the old priest opened my 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. In that Reflection, I related seeing a young couple in a Pittsburgh alley, and later that night including a prayer for them. I also talked about how our Morning Prayer group often includes time to think about and pray for those nameless people we see each day who may not have anyone to pray for them.
Not long ago, I added another component to this pray-for-the-unprayed-for routine. On my daily walk across town, I'll see someone who looks like they may not have anyone to pray for them and could use a prayer. (I realize I could be all wrong ... they might have legions praying for them.) Perhaps, too, a person who just looks in need of a prayer. I try to pick different sorts of people. Sometimes one who just looks in need, another time a kid weighed down by his school backpack, the harried mother with crying kids, sometimes a person I'm sure I wouldn't like or looks like a real pain. I'll try to etch that person's look so I can remember. That evening during my meditation/prayer time, I'll try to conjure up the day's face, think about the person, and say a prayer.
My purpose in this little routine/ritual is not something like me selecting and bestowing my gift of prayer on someone ... at least I hope it is not. It feels more like a spirit of that person allowing me to get closer and share a bit of our common humanity.
When asked to pray for another person, the request and my prayer is usually something specific for that person: working through a separation, healing of an illness, coping with a tragedy, and such. When praying for these individuals I don't know, it seems important (at least to me) that my prayer be more general. Something like asking God to watch over that guy with the beard I see who mumbles to himself, to bless him, and make him aware of God's care if he is not already aware. It would feel like a violation of our common human bond to presume that I know the guy's need or that he needs to "find God." Anyway, God already knows him.
I'm not sure what my prayers do for them ... I mean beyond what prayer does. I know nothing more about the person prayed for. But, after doing this awhile, I've noticed that my praying for these unknowns ... these who might not have anyone praying for them ... has done something to/for me.
I've started seeing people differently. Not just those I prayed for, but many people. Perhaps, I'm actually beginning to see them as God might see them. That guy with the disgusting cigarette hanging from his mouth still has the cigarette, but he also looks like a child of God. "Close both eyes and see with the other one. Then we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments, our ceaseless withholding, our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened and we find ourselves quite unexpectedly in a new expansive location in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love." Fr. Greg Boyle, SJFrom Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ's book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Boyle is a renowned author and speaker, famous for founding Homeboy Industries in 1992 because he listened to the hopes and fears of his parishioners at Dolores Mission. This poorest parish in the archdiocese of Los Angeles had seen many of its young men pulled into gang violence in the 1980s, and "Fr. G" responded by working to get them meaningful employment. (see www.homeboyindustries.org). The harried mother trying to corral those crying kids is still harried, but she's a harried child of God. The old man with the paralyzed left leg still drags his leg; but, he drags it with the look of another human who reflects the image of the Creator.
We have all heard people tell touching stories of looking into the eyes of someone else (often the needy) and seeing the eyes of God looking back at them. I have experienced that, and probably you have too. We know the truth of seeing God in others. But, as we walk around in this "Ordinary Time," we might realize also that we can have eyes to see others as God must see them.
But, beware! There is a risk in praying for these unknowns, for praying that we see people as God sees them. It can be a game-changing risk. A risk of breaking our stereotypes, our biases, the preconceived impressions our culture might try to ingrain in us. ... We might actually begin to see those about us as God sees them.