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Prayers for when there are no words


Yesterday I received an early morning text from a friend that simply read, "545 children." I didn't understand what she meant until a little while later, when I sipped my morning coffee and read the horrific news that the parents of 545 migrant children who had been separated at the border could not be found.

How does one pray in the face of such news? Sometimes the words just flow. But sometimes -- most times, if I'm honest -- the shock of bad news makes it difficult to formulate a prayer, much less a coherent thought. That's often when I reach for my Book of Common Prayer and lean on the prayers written there. I rest in these old prayers, saturated in scripture, that have been prayed countless times by countless Christians around the world and throughout the centuries.

In this year marked by so much shocking news, I have particularly appreciated our prayer book's rich and varied prayers for outreach, mission, justice, and healing in the world. These prayers are found in the Occasional Prayers section of the prayerbook starting on page 641, and they make an excellent companion to your morning coffee and news. Some well-worn "outreach prayers" for me this year have been:

4. FOR THE UNITY OF ALL CHRISTIAN PEOPLE (including those fighting in the Facebook comments!)

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace to take to heart the grave dangers we are in through our many divisions. Deliver your Church from all enmity and prejudice, and everything that hinders us from godly union. As there is one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so make us all to be of one heart and of one mind, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and love, that with one voice we may give you praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God in everlasting glory. Amen.

16. FOR THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH (note: we pray this on Membership Sundays at Incarnation! It's a stirring vision for the church.)

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty God, by your Word you laid the foundations of the earth, set the bounds of the sea, and still the wind and waves. Surround us with your grace and peace, and preserve us through this _______ [wildfire, tropical storm, global pandemic, etc]. By your Spirit, lift up those who have fallen, strengthen those who work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

33. FOR OUR ENEMIES (an excellent pre-debate prayer!)

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you in Jesus Christ; in whose Name we pray. Amen.


O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

43. FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE (I began regularly praying this with the news of Ahmaud Arbery's death and haven't stopped since)

Almighty God, you created us in your own image: Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may strengthen one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

45. FOR THOSE WHO SERVE OTHERS (essential workers!!!)

O Lord our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served, but to serve: We ask you to bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others [especially grocery store workers, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, social workers, etc]; endue them with wisdom, patience, and courage, that they may strengthen the weak and raise up those who fall, and, being inspired by your love, may worthily minister to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the sake of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


And there are so, so many more. Prayers for those with mental and physical illness. Prayers for bearing discouragement, grief, unemployment, and addiction. Prayers for parenting small children. Prayers for environmental stewardship. The prayer book is simply a treasure trove of helpful prayers for when our words fail us.

Don't have a Book of Common Prayer? It's available online here in its entirety, or send me or Liz an email; we'd love to give you one!

Finally, we will pray our way into Election Night using another treasure from the prayer book: the Great Litany. We invite you to join us for this time of prayer, silence, and song on Nov 3 at 7-8pm over Zoom. Join from the link on the Virtual Worship page.

Let's keep praying, friends.


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