Prayer—building lives of compassion, lives that are full

In his book Conversations with God, James Melvin Washington presents a record of prayer that covers the past two hundred years in the experience of African Americans. Interviewed by The Washington Post after his book's publication last year, the author observed that in Western society today, those who live without prayer often turn out to be "some of the meanest, lowdown, lowlife folk I've ever known." He also pointed to the sense of hopelessness, the anger and emptiness, the lack of caring—the "compassion fatigue"—that tend to characterize prayerless lives.

The candor and bluntness in Mr. Washington's observations as reported in the Post don't create further dismay, however, because his words implicitly carry the possibility of resolution. Lives without prayer—empty lives—and hearts without compassion can become full and loving through prayer. If emptiness and meanness are produced by not praying, then abundant life and unselfish caring are produced by praying.

That seems simple enough. Yet the needed transformation includes two essential elements, and we each have a part in it. First, those of us who already pray can go further and deeper to embrace in our own prayers all of our neighbors. The spiritual animus is felt. It changes us, and it changes the way we relate to others. Then others respond. As we live our prayers, we find God-provided opportunities to show the way, by example, of communion with God. Our prayers for our community are also like fine, good seed scattered by a good wind. They make their own way and propagate the fertile fields of thought and conscience that have been lying fallow.

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Agreement and disagreement in daily life
August 21, 1995

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