There are a lot of thoughts and prayers happening these days. Hurricanes, a mass shooting, and the re-awakened demon of nuclear war ought to cause a lot of thinking and praying. “Thoughts and prayers” has become a common phrase, shorthand for I care about this, something to say when you don’t know what else to say.
Whether these words are too cheap and easy is a topic for a different blog. I, for one, am glad to take them at face value unless there’s reason to be skeptical.
I do wonder how these two actions relate to each other. Are thoughts and prayers two distinct things? Can there be prayer without thought? Is thought a form of prayer? Are we unsure what we mean by prayer, so we qualify it with what we’re more familiar with, something more down to earth – thinking compassionately about someone or a group of people?
I imagine all of these could be answered in the affirmative, with commentary to follow.
Some people experience prayer as a direct conversation with God on behalf of another person or situation. Others experience prayer as a particular form of thought – a conscious decision to direct love and goodwill in the direction of another. There is good precedent in the tradition for both forms. One of my favorite passages about prayer is in Romans 8 when Paul talks about the Spirit groaning within us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:23). Perhaps rather than “thoughts and prayers” we should say “groans and sighs.”
A few weeks ago during a worship service Pete Y passed along a phrase as an encouragement for us to give toward our congregational first fruits pledging process. He noted that a wealthy couple whose generosity he greatly admires shared with him that “Our money can go places we can’t.”
I’m thinking that this phrase also works for thoughts and prayer. Our prayers go places we can’t. Our thoughts go places we can’t.
We can’t always be in the hospital room, on the hurricane-devastated island, at the death bed, with a friend struggling with mental health. But our thoughts, prayers, groans, and sighs become extensions of ourselves. They reach out and touch, in unseen ways, the circumstances of our fellow creatures. And in the process, they form us into more compassionate people.