Hey There God…Its Liz…: Praying the Paper, and Other Forms of Lenten Prayer

Before I undertook this practice of blogging my way through Lent, I googled various Lenten practices other than giving things up (y’all know how I feel about that by now, so no need to go on about that). One of the practices that came up was “Praying the Paper.” Initially, I cringed. The good Smithie that I am, I immediately didn’t want to see any fuzziness between religion and politics, and even the suggestion of introducing prayer into the newspaper seemed sacrilegious for me. WRONG, even. Like those faithful people who picket particular political positions that will remain unnamed – I didn’t want to begin a practice that seemed disingenuous to me, just in the spirit of Lent, and only to give it up again once Lent concludes in 40 days (46 actually, including Sundays). 

But, in doing more research, I realized that “praying the paper” didn’t literally have to be “praying the paper.” It could mean praying over the subject of a blog, or a Facebook prayer page, or a CaringBridge page. But even deeper than that, I came to a realization; behind every Newspaper story is an actual person, and in most newspaper stories, someone seems to be hurt these days. Someone has been wronged, injured, killed, or harmed in some way, and this person is not simply a disembodied image on a page being distributed by the millions of issues throughout the US (and even the world), but somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son. Even more than this, this person is a beloved child of God, and worthy of prayer and love from someone who doesn’t know them. It isn’t about politics, and the reason they ended up in the papers in the first place likely wasn’t because of politics, but the secondary issue happened to be politics. It could have started out with one thing, but gang violence, drugs, hunger, random acts of violence, guns, poverty, racial injustices or some completely random other issue landed them the subject of someone’s news story. Prayer cannot solve the problem, but another voice lifted to God’s ear certainly cannot hurt. And it is a start. Especially in a world torn apart, and longing for love and compassion. 

For the last several months, I have been following the blog of this little boy named Joel. Joel suffered from a very rare form of brain cancer, and his parents, both people of great and strong faith, have been fighting very hard to find every treatment possible to sustain Joel’s life. The tagline of Joel’s blog is “I’m not dead yet,” a spoof off of Monty Python & The Holy Grail, but also an indication of the young man’s faith in God, and God’s certain plan for the young guy here on Earth. I don’t exactly remember how I found Joel’s blog, as his family is from Colorado, but they ended up at the very hospital I will be doing my CPE residency at this coming fall for a clinical trial. In the spirit of Lent, I have taken to praying for Joel as I would “pray the paper,” praying for God to give Joel peace, and for Joel’s family in particular, as Joel’s mother is pregnant with a little girl (their 5th child). Reading from afar, my prayers are all I can offer this family, but every day, I offer a prayer, and this past week, my prayers changed from prayers of comfort as Joel went on hospice care to prayers of support as Joel went into the arms of God in heaven. 

Praying the paper may not be for you, but praying a blog, an Instagram, or a twitter account might be. For me, I’ve been intentionally praying for this family, since it is all I can do for a family connected through six degrees of separation to the hospital I will be serving 3300 miles away. It isn’t about politics, nor is it about “doing something,” as my CPE supervisor would say hastily. He always said chaplains were not there to DO something, they were there to simply BE. And praying is BEING, pure and simple; prayers are a way to span time and space, distance and language. Prayer allows the faithful to connect and support in all places and all times, regardless of resources in such a simple way; the smallest of gesture fills even the greatest of gaps. 

Give it a try, even if only for a day or two. It is a strange idea, even for this Smithie, who resists bringing politics into church meetings and prayer requests at every opportunity. But if the church is missional, and if Christ meets us where we are, and heals the brokenhearted, then praying the paper just might be some opportunity to do some combination of all that, even in a teeny, tiny way. To show some love to someone through such a gentle gesture. 

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