Prayer Vigil No. 88

It was a Sunday this past February, only the second time that I’d been at the vigil since early December, and the first time when I was feeling well enough to focus on being there. Nothing had changed in my absence. I saw the man on the bike I always saw ride by making a delivery, although it might have been another, on the same bike doing the same task. The Independence Mall visitor center under construction was now a skeleton of steel. If I inquired, I am sure I would find out that we were still dropping a few bombs every week on Iraq and more children had died as a result of economic sanctions. It seemed to me that nothing had changed.

Twice in the hour two young men yelled at us from a distance, somewhat angrily. I couldn’t hear either clearly. The first said something about God and God’s weakness; the second about our cause being worth as much as Jesus and that was nothing. Neither stopped—just rattled off their sentence without breaking stride. Perhaps I put my own reservations and uncertainties into their mouths. Jesus stood for peace and look what happened to him, was a phrase I thought of for the second man. For the first, the thought was more complicated: "If God believed in peace why would God let all this killing go on? What makes you think that God will listen to your prayers? Just take a look at the world."

A friend recently told me of a conversation she had with God. She asked why are people always getting killed in earthquakes and disasters? She knew she was also asking why tragedy happened to others and not to her. God’s answer, she said, was very clear. God shrugged his shoulders (if he would have had shoulders and been a he), and said, "I don’t know." That seemed like the right answer to her, for her understanding of God, and the right one to me too. So yes, this guy was right: praying to God is in some way pointless. I don’t expect God to intervene no matter how fervent our prayers, so why then do I carry this message?

I’ve wondered about this a lot since. I’m coming to think that the act of prayer doesn’t really have anything to do with God. It has to do with us. When I pray, not very frequently I will confess, I am basically asking God to help me change—to pray for peace in the world is to ask God to help me be a peaceful person and to take action to promote peace. It isn’t asking God to do me a favor and straighten everything out. And what I’m praying for and asking for when I ask other people to pray is for all of us to change. I guess I’m praying for all the others, hoping that they will look into their hearts and repent, change their ways from hate and killing to love and helping. And asking everyone else to pray for one another too. Because I imagine that if we were all on our knees sincerely in prayer for one another an hour a day every day it might change the way we lead the rest of our lives.

John Andrew Gallery

John Andrew Gallery, a member of Chestnut Hill (Pa.) Meeting, has been a frequent participant in the weekly prayer vigils for peace in the world that are held in Philadelphia every Sunday from 4 to 5 p.m., in front of the Liberty Bell on Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets.