The old man inched along the sidewalk toting a grocery sack. His back was painfully hunched and his eyes were downcast. When I spotted him, my heart flinched with pity – and I knew it was time for a drive-by prayer.
Drive-by prayers are little invocations that can be offered for complete strangers who are obviously in need of help. And let’s face it: these folks are everywhere.
There’s the hugely pregnant lady pushing a shopping cart and dragging along a toddler who’s having a meltdown. There’s the teenager in a wheelchair, longing to be on the football field. There’s the heavily made-up woman sitting all alone in a bar.
Drive-by prayers are wonderful ways to pass the time when everything’s going wrong. Let’s say you’re in line at the grocery store, or stuck in traffic on the freeway.
Instead of cursing silently, you can look around and find someone to pray for.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the person’s name, because God does. Just try, “That lady in the next car, dear God, the one who looks so sad and lonely – please send someone to look after her.” Or: “That little chubby boy, God, the one being teased by the other kids – please protect him.”
I first discovered drive-by prayers when my husband and I were driving four nuns from Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, around Atlanta. Moments after we all settled in the car, one sister pulled out her Rosary beads.
“Let’s say a few prayers,” she said, and everyone joined in.
As the car inched down Ponce de Leon Avenue, we glimpsed the faces of street people, drug addicts and ladies of the night. We also spotted children in strollers, college students on bicycles and business people eating lunch at trendy outdoor cafes.
They were all God’s children sweating under the same noonday sun. And they were all unaware that we were praying for them.
Each day when I open the newspaper, and read about war, poverty and crime, I’m tempted to conclude the world is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket. Then I remind myself there are plenty of opportunities for drive-by prayers.
There are children whose sweet faces somehow show up in the obituary section – and their broken-hearted families need prayers. There are young soldiers overseas, looking weary and frightened. And don’t forget the stunned victims of storms and earthquakes.
When it comes to prayer, you don’t need any special training or technology. Even the tiniest child can chime in, along with the elderly and bedridden.
You can be weeping in a jail cell or dying of boredom in a cubicle. You might be flat on your back in the hospital, or flattened by loneliness in a nursing home.
Everything can be taken away from you, including your freedom, your health and your wealth. But you still have enormous power when you lift your heart to God.
But here’s a disclaimer: Drive-by prayers are not glamorous or glitzy. They won’t make prime-time TV talk shows or the nightly news.
Still, they can work tiny miracles, and in a quiet and mysterious way, change the world forever.
Lorraine is a religion columnist with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the author of seven books, most recently “Death of a Liturgist” and “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a biography of Flannery O’Connor. All her books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com
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