As most of you know, World in Prayer is written by a team whose members take turns writing the prayers. And I, who am writing this week – I ran out of words a long time ago. Trapped in what seemed like near-isolation by the pandemic; anguished by its resulting ever-growing number of deaths and illnesses, poverty, homelessness, job loss and starvation; drained by the constant threats to human rights throughout the world, I ran out of words in which pray.
A nature photographer by avocation, I fled, desperate for the solace of distraction, to spend long hours in solitude at nearby wildlife refuges. For long months, it felt as if I’d lost the ability to pray. It took even longer for me to realize that the images seared into my mind and camera, of sunsets and migrating waterfowl, winter-bare trees and the early hints of spring, had been heart-felt prayers for the world all along.
As the sun sets, the sandhill cranes return from foraging in the fields to settle in quiet shallow ponds where they will be safe from night predators.
Holy one, your glory shines forth in the sunset and the sunrise. Open our eyes, that we will see with awe every person, every place we encounter each day; that we may find safe places to rest, and healing for our hearts. Fill us with joy – joy such as imbues the viral video of Gurdeep Pandher of Yukon, Canada, who was so happy to get his Covid-19 vaccination that he went to a frozen lake to dance Bhangra on it “for joy, hope and positivity, which I’m forwarding … for everyone’s health and wellbeing.” May we all dance with such joyous abandon!
When the leaves are gone, all you can see are the bare bones – and strength.
The Covid-19 pandemic has stripped away so much that we thought we needed, O God. It has brought us back to the realization that family, community, connections between one another, the basics of touch and hugging and face-to-face communication – those are our roots and our strength. Bring us back together, across borders, languages and economic divides. As more vaccines are approved and enter production and distribution, please, dear God, hasten the day when we can share birthdays and weddings, comfort the ill, grieve together with the dying, take comfort in common worship, and rejoice in common meals. As the pandemic eases, let us not forget our roots. Hold us fast, above all, to love.
Thousands of geese migrate through and over-winter in Central California.
What can we learn from your geese, O God? They cover the fields, nibbling and gossiping. Then one, then another, leaps into the air. At first small clumps, then with a rush, nearly all take off, milling uncertainly in the air until one takes the lead and they head out in the classic “V” formation. Watch closely, and you’ll see that it is not a single leader who leads the group the whole way, but rather an intricate weaving that moves the birds from one position to another, so that none get overtired, and the whole flock is preserved. How do they know whether the first to take flight is foolhardy or wise, and whether the few that remain behind are greedy for one last bite, or accurately discerning that there was no real danger in the first place? How do they know when it’s time to move on, and where to go next?
Guide us wisely, as leaders and as followers, and as we move back and forth between those roles. Enable us to put the needs of the human “flock” above our own desires and inclinations, and the wisdom to choose leaders who will do the same. Grant us the courage to change, when change is needed, to stand up against oppression when endangered, to maintain that which is good – no matter the pressures against us. Inspire us to take our turn, to share in the responsibilities, of weaving our communities together. Especially this week, we pray for:
- El Salvador, after this past Monday’s legislative elections. President Nayib Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party appears to have achieved the 2/3rds majority needed to pass laws, appoint the next attorney general and members of the supreme court. Although his promises to the nation were popular, this would eliminate all checks and balances over his power, and observers warn of the possibility of the country becoming an authoritative dictatorship.
- United States, as many leaders in the Republican party continue to spread the lie that the election was stolen from former President Trump, and appear more determined to consolidate power than to work for policies that polls show are highly popular among their own constituents.
- The many countries that consistently block internet access during protests or elections – thereby also blocking millions of people from working, studying, accessing health care, getting vital information about the pandemic, or buying essential goods or making payments. Among the worst offenders in 2020, according to a report just released by Access Now, were India, Yemen, Belarus, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
Help us to know when to wait, when to rise, whom to follow, and where You are calling us to go. Help us to be the flock you are calling us to be.
So many different species sharing a narrow spit of land!
Dearest One, you give us so many models of different species existing cooperatively together. A raft of many kinds of waterfowl. A stream where egrets, herons and sandhill cranes are fishing scant feet from one another. A utility pole with hawk eating its noonday frog – while smaller birds crowd the wires to and from the pole. How can we not pray for our lives to be rebuilt to make gracious space for all your people?
- In Afghanistan, talks resumed this week between the Taliban and the government, with the Taliban maintaining that they want a political resolution and denying responsibility for the increasing spate of targeted assassinations of judges, journalists and activists.
- In response to escalating allegations of human rights violations against Uighurs being detained in Xinjiang camps, the Chinese government is mounting a public relations campaign to discredit the female witnesses.
- Before the pandemic started, Thailand had millions of migrants from Myanmar and Cambodia, who were the primary breadwinners for their families back home and who worked in areas as diverse as manufacturing, agriculture, and domestic work. Many are now stranded, unemployed and penniless; unable to find jobs in either their native lands or in Thailand.
- As part of its efforts to wind down a Trump-era policy that required asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting for their U.S. immigration court hearings, the Biden administration on Friday admitted the first group of 25 migrants. The group included people from Honduras, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Cuba. Plans call for the pace to increase next week to up to 300 people per day. Instead of being held in detention centers, the migrants will be referred to local shelters and groups like Jewish Family Service for temporary housing during their Covid-19 quarantine period, before being released to join family or friends elsewhere in the U.S.
God, you have given us a vision of the human family, your beloved family, all gladly living side-by-side. Yet the logistics of finding enough shelter, jobs, and resources are daunting. Give us a vision of those details, too! Make it possible for every single human being to have a place to call home.
I was expecting to watch birds, when a river otter delighted me by climbing onto the bank and taking an ecstatic and wriggly mud bath.
Surprise us, O God, by your presence when we least expect it. Surprise us with more stories like those of 32-year-old Yenenesh Tilahun, who opened a beauty salon in the largest red-light district of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia – to aid sex workers who would not seek other help out of shame. But while styling their hair, they talk, and she has been able to keep many from being trafficked, while providing practical help and guidance to others.
Surprise us, O God, by your presence in those who care and help, who honor us with their stories, who walk beside us. Surprise us by your presence in those who mourn, and in those who dance with joy. Delight us, O God, in your ecstatic and wriggly presence.
Almost buried amid the rapidly growing spring grass, the tiny flowers were less than 1/2″ each.
Dearest One, it’s so easy to forget how much we need one another, to forget that the flowers need the bee every bit as much as the bee needs the flowers. And yet, as winter turns to spring, we take hope. We take hope as we hear that the research the led to the Covid-19 vaccines has also pointed the way to a promising malaria vaccine – the first in the world. We take hope as we learn that the state of Kerala, India, has started a program to install solar panels on 75,000 homes, in a way that will make them affordable for even the most impoverished. We take hope when we read about coffee farmers’ cooperatives in Nicaragua that are taking the lead in helping the farmers diversify, reforest, and improve the soil in response to the 2020 hurricanes that destroyed 10-40% of the coffee crop.
We take hope at the news that African countries have committed to restoring 250 million acres of degraded soil – an area the size of Egypt – by 2030. And that international investors have committed over $14 billion to restore the Sahel. In Niger and Burkina Faso alone, thousands of farms have regreened more than 12.5 million acres.
We take hope from the many across the world who are committed to making sure that the lessons of this pandemic do not go to waste. That inequities and injustices in health care, infrastructure, education and economies revealed by the crisis do not get swept under the rug again. That we remember that issues that we had long thought to be insoluble, in light of the urgency of the pandemic have already proven to be both immediately necessary and thoroughly possible.
Dearest One, we take hope from the lessons of the tiny flowers and the bee, the sunset and the still pool of water, the barren tree, the soaring geese, the resting ducks, and the unexpected otter. You are our teacher, our strength, our guide, our hope.
Blessed be your name, forever and ever.