Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Praying for the Invisible

Present, and yet invisible.
"To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. (1 Cor. 11-13).  St. Paul shares his own struggles as a follower of Jesus Christ to the fractious Corinthian community, but the reality of such daily suffering is not so foreign to our time, especially when we encounter scenes like the one in the photo to the left.  I stumbled upon this suffering man on the corner of 20th and Cherry Streets across from St. Clement's, as I walked back from physical therapy.  He was lying on top of a steaming manhole cover to stay warm, shaking and muttering.  It was a heartbreaking sight.

Absent, and yet, conspicuous.
Heartbreaking, in part, because we have become so accustomed to witnessing scenes like this and editing them out of our consciousness.  In fact, on the way from the train this morning, I passed a young homeless woman nursing her baby and, farther down on the same bridge, a elderly homeless man huddled against a wall sleeping.  Morning commuters rushed by on their way to work, seemingly unmoved.  Soon afterward, as I was saying Morning Prayer, I noticed that one of the psalms appointed for today affirmed that  "[The Lord] will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless; he will not despise their plea" (Ps. 102:17).  I am glad that at least God hears the prayers of the invisible suffering, because we other humans so often do not. 

When we pray for the homeless and other invisible, marginalized people, we usually pray for them in the abstract.  We do not see their individual faces; we do not speak their names during intercessions at mass or evensong; and we do not even know the content of their prayers that we might ask God for their fulfillment.  We fail to know them and pray for them as specific people, but merely as a group.  And we pass them by on the street without looking. "We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day."  So, how are we to pray for the invisible, especially during this week of Thanksgiving? We often can't pray for our homeless sisters and brothers by name or face; but we can pray to God to make them more visible.  And we can help to fulfill this prayer by looking the homeless in the face, asking their names, and offering generosity when it is requested.  This may not be be enough, but it is at least an act of prayer that is personal, rather than perfunctory.

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