There are many tragedies in life. Death, disease, violence, natural disasters, accidents all cause us stress and worry. In times like these, we often talk about praying for the victims, or sending positive thoughts and energy. We do it to help those who are hurting, and we do it to feel like we are contributing in some way, even if we are too far away to be of service in person. Some people say that such efforts are useless. They do not believe that positive thoughts can help anyone. Whether this is true or not, we still do it. We do it for ourselves if for no one else. It helps ease the pain of feeling helpless. But I do believe that such things can be helpful to those in need, too.
What is prayer?
For ease of language today, I will just use the word prayer to refer to all focusing of energy, whether one is speaking formally to God or some other deity, casting a spell, or directing positive thoughts out through the universe. It is all the same thing — focusing energy for a cause.
How does it work?
When we pray, we gather up energy from our emotions. Our emotions fuel our prayers, whether it is love or fear. As I talked about in my sermon, the type of energy we focus is important. If we gather up love and direct it towards others, they will benefit. If we gather up fear and direct it towards others, it will harm them.
Now of course, it is rarely our intent to harm when we pray for others. And of course, intent is very important, but it is the thought that counts. What thought are we using to focus our energy? Let me give you an example from my own life, and the one that triggered this post.
Last spring, we had a series of wildfires in our county. It seemed like every weekend brought a new fire. Eventually, police made arrests and the fires ceased. No people were harmed in any the fires, but they were scary, and they used up lots of precious resources and put our firefighters (mostly volunteers) at risk. There was a lot of praying.
Recently, I saw firetrucks racing past my house again. I jumped on Facebook to find out where they were going and learned that a farm was on fire. My first thought was, “Not again!” I began to pray for everyone there, but then I caught myself. The energy I was collecting was not positive energy. It was fearful energy. I feared for the firefighters, I feared for the family, I feared for the animals. My energy was all fear. It was not love. As much as I do love my neighbors and firefighters and wish all the best for everyone, I was summoning up the wrong sort of energy in myself.
I imagined that I was a firefighter on the scene, working hard to contain the fire, and suddenly got hit with all the emotions that I was conjuring up at that time. That would not have been helpful. Sending a big dose of confidence and gratitude would be much more helpful.
Pivoting your thoughts
I decided to pivot my thoughts and find positive things to focus on. The firefighters are very skilled. This time it probably was not arson. Many towns came to our aid, as I counted trucks from at least four neighboring departments drive past my house. All reports on Facebook were that the family was safe and all livestock and pets were safe. These are all wonderful things that conjured up positive energy. That was energy that made me feel better, so I focused that energy to pray with.
The final result was that all lives were spared, the barn/garage/kennel was burnt to the ground, the house suffered only melted siding, and the fire did not spread into the forest up the mountain.
On a more national level, we can send energy to the water protectors in North Dakota by focusing on the fact that people from all over the country are supporting them. Recently I read that a group of people from Oregon donated some tiny houses to shelter them from the harsh winter. I read about police who have turned in their badges and “switched sides” to support those they previously harassed. Veterans are arriving there to shield the protectors from brutality. I read about the baby born there, a symbol of hope for the future. These all build up an energy of hope and joy and gratitude that will be helpful to focus to them.
Sending helpful energy
When we talk about sending positive thoughts, we need to make sure the thoughts we are sending are truly positive. Negative thoughts, even sent with good intentions, only hinder. When a loved one is ill, the best kinds of thoughts we can send them are ones in which they are whole and well and enjoying life. Or, if their condition is terminal, we can focus on their having a peaceful death surrounded by those who love them, or on the fact that their pain is well managed. Focusing on their illness and how miserable they are only amplifies their misery.
When disaster strikes, we can be grateful that FEMA is experienced with managing such things, and we have a National Guard that can help clean up the debris. That minimal lives were lost, or that power was restored quickly, or that so many people can set aside political differences and work together to restore the area to livable conditions again. In any tragedy, there are things to be grateful for, and those are the things we can use to focus our energy and send it towards those we wish to help.
When you hear of tragedy and feel moved to pray, do you pray out of love or out of worry? How does the praying make you feel? Do you think it is actually helpful to those you wish well?