I will pray for you.
It can sound a bit hollow, I know. Lately, in the wake of tragedy, some have begun expressing how this can sound like a platitude rather than an action, especially in the political realm. And not just there; sometimes 'just praying' can seem like just doing nothing. What do we mean by our prayers, anyway, and what are we hoping they will accomplish? And what if you don't believe in God, and I pray for you anyway, is this disrespectful?
Well, first things first. I think God is like gravity - you can choose to believe or not, but if you do, then you believe that it works for everyone just the same as it works for you. There is not a selective belief in the Almighty. And of course the opposite is also true - if you are convinced that there is no God, then it's not likely you imagine that God exists only for me.
And then there is the question of whether prayer works, and how, along with the idea that prayer is the opposite of doing something. As far as I can tell, prayer itself is not about us, what we are doing. It is about God, who we think God is and how we think God works in the world.
If I pray for something to happen, and it doesn't happen, then all this proves is that prayer is not magic, it is not some metaphysical force that I control for my own purposes. And if I pray for something and it does happen, this does not mean that I am better, kinder, holier or closer to God than anyone else. So why pray at all?
I pray because it orients me to a God who I believe created, redeemed, sustains, and will ultimately resurrect the whole world and everyone in it. And I offer all my hopes, fears, desires and petitions to God because it helps me to remember my faith, and in the darkest of times it helps me remember that the world will not end until every tear is wiped from every eye. That these things I pray for have been answered and will be answered, and the answer is always 'yes', even if I don't see it or know it yet. Because God is love and nothing, nothing, not even death, will separate us from that love.
So is praying 'doing something'? It's hard for me not to believe that when we pray, and are thus reassured of who God is and what God's power entails, then we are transformed. Prayer reminds us who God is, and then reminds us who we are - God's beloved children who have nothing to fear. And going forth in our lives, I can't believe this doesn't change us, the way we live and the choices we make. Beyond politics, culture, language, age, anything else, if we are really praying, we are really invoking the power of love in the world. I would say that is doing something.
I hope I never stop praying, and if I tell you I will pray for you, you can be assured I will do so immediately, either out loud or silently, and I will add you to the list of my petitions when I say my formal prayers. Because I believe that nothing can stop the woes of this world - death and sickness and war and poverty and fear - except the love of God. My prayer is a testament to this belief, until the day when everyone, everywhere, knows it is true.