Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Praying for Strangers by River Jordan

Before leaving the library I usually look through the new non-fiction books and often pick up a book that catches my eye. I simply liked the title of this book and wondered about the "inards". Of course the back of the book contained accolades, but that's to be expected.

The book sat on a table for a week while I finished other books—in the same place all week until I picked it up and added it to a rather heavy book bag.

River Jordan, a fiction writer, a radio host, and a workshop leader, describes herself as introverted and someone who makes New Year's resolutions , but has difficulty adhering to them for any duration of time.

At the end of 2008 her two sons were going off to war. One deployed to Iraq and the other to Afghanistan.The Christmas holidays gained more importance. That year she didn't spend time prior to New Years thinking about resolutions, but quite suddenly she said one "drops down" into "her spirit."

She would pray for a stranger every day.

That's exactly what she did. Most often she simply knew who needed someone praying for them. She approached the person and explained that she had made a New Year's resolution to pray for a stranger each day.She asked for a name—but often they responded by sharing with her a need for a prayer. Perhaps someone had a need for a job, someone was sick, they needed a home or a person felt down and was delighted that someone had singled them out for a prayer.

She didn't look for someone who appeared down and out, homeless, depressed. Many of the people looked like everyone else save that she began to intuit that a particular person was her stranger for the day.

River didn't stand there and pray—she did so later. Many of the people she felt drawn to shared stories with her, some were fleeting moments. Occasionally she didn't tell the person, but then felt something was missing.

Over the year she began to write down her encounters—encouraged by her husband to keep track and share her experience with others. She began to realize that the blessings fell both ways—she was gaining from these encounters.

Occasionally paths would cross again and people told her how things were better, how much they appreciated being selected.

You can't read this book without thinking that you too want to follow her lead. Imagine, she asks, what the world might be like if millions of people prayed for strangers.

She does acknowledge that living in the south makes people a bit more amenable to listening to a stranger tell them about her resolution and how they were selected that day. Somehow I expect that people in the Northeast might react a bit differently.

She writes: " I ask you to try. I know that's personal but I mean it. t doesn't have to be your resolution, or your everyday discipline. I simply ask you to be aware of the multitudes—one person at a time."

"I don't know why people pray. I only know I do...Sometimes I can feel my heart in my prayers, sometimes my mind, and other times actually a shifting kind of power. As if my prayers hold weight and water. When that happens I feel as if I've made a difference in the natural world somehow."

The book moved me and felt like a gift.


I'll start with the elderly woman who occasionally comes into the coffee house where I write. She buys a coffee and a sweet, takes out a book—usually a mystery, and reads. After fifteen or twenty minutes she cleans her table, pushes in her chair and leaves.

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