North London parish 'praying the news'

Parishioners from five London churches gathered at Our Lady Help of Christians in Kentish Town, north London, on Saturday night, for a candle lit Peace Sunday prayer vigil. There was a reading: 'Bringing the World's events to God' by Margaret Silf, Taizé chants, individual prayers for peace locally and in countries around the world. Flutist Marion Hill, from St Dominic's Priory, Haverstock Hill accompanied the singing and also gave a solo performance of the Pavane Lachrymae.

Organiser Margaret Harvey, who leads the parish's Justice and Peace group said: "This is the first time we have organised a vigil like this. We particularly wanted to do something because of the crisis in the Holy Land and elsewhere around the world. I hope we will hold another vigil next year."

The reading text follows:

'Bringing the World's events to God'
from Margaret Silf's book 'Close to the Heart'

A particular form of intercessory prayer, and one that can frequently flow most powerfully out of our own experience of pain, involves praying the news.
This means taking complete strangers, or whole groups of people or other situations from the national or international news, into your prayer.

If it is true that we are 'all one below the tide line' then whatever happens in other, troubled, parts of the world is part of our being ­ in ­ the world. A virus that affects our lungs will sooner or later lower the resistance and strength of every other part of the body.

And if it is meaningful to pray in such a way, how might we approach this kind of prayer? We might reflect on the special power such prayer has when it flows from the heart of someone who has a real bond of empathy with the situation or person for which we are praying.

It is very easy to become overwhelmed by the international news and to be sucked into an abyss of despair when we become aware of our apparent helplessness to change things or even to alleviate the world's suffering in any significant way. A common and understandable reaction in these circumstances is to switch off inwardly- to insulate ourselves against an encroachment of grief and pain that we cannot bear. It follows, all too easily, that we become insensitive to some of the horrors we see on our television screens. We can grow dangerously apathetic and detached. If your reactions are anything like mine, you start to feel bad about yourself for not feeling more acutely what is happening to others in the world. Guilt kicks in and undermines any possibility of releasing positive energy into the troubled situation.

When I react like this, I find that it helps to take advantage of what the news editors call the human interest factor. In practice, this means paying attention to the specific situation of a person or family caught up in the trouble. Every night there is a report from somewhere around the world of a natural disaster or a political crisis or a major atrocity or a ferocious crime. Before you shut off emotionally because of your own powerlessness, try to notice the face of someone caught in the middle or it. Notice the expression in his/her eyes. Imagine experiencing the cold sweat of his/her fear. See for yourself where this person is living. Notice the things he/she says. Enter into his/her domestic space for a while and let it become your prayer, just as you might pray for a friend. Let that person's story, that one person's need, form your prayer for intercession. This will shrink the unmanageable down to a size that is unavoidable. It will hurt, but maybe real prayer such as this has to hurt, just as Christ's prayer for us from the cross was a hurting prayer.

Even a small gesture, expressed from the reaches of our hearts, can do more than we hope for or imagine, when it is made in the power of God.
It leads me to believe that when we pray the news our smallness can count, and, like the widow's mite ,it can become the drop that causes the ocean to overflow.

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