by Lexiann Grant
“…we commend to thy fatherly goodness ALL those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed…”
— BCP, Prayer For All Sorts and Conditions of…all mankind
Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi. The name kept intruding into my thoughts, especially during nightly prayers. I knew that I was not acquainted with anyone bearing that name. After three days of hearing it in my head, I gave up and actively began praying for someone named Fittipaldi.
Several days later, I heard the name on the news — Emerson Fittipaldi had won the Indy 500 — after being in a crash during the race.
Never having watched any type of car racing, and knowing virtually nothing about the sport, I definitely know nothing about racers, including the Fittipaldi family of drivers. I don’t know why his name popped into my mind immediately prior to that time, or why I was led to pray for him. I also will never know if my prayers had any effect on his safe outcome. And I wonder: was anyone else likewise praying for him?
Occasionally I will feel an urge to pray for someone. Author River Jordan, in her book “Praying for Strangers” tells how she began a new practice of praying daily for a stranger as a means of reducing her anxiety over the departure of both of her sons for war. In a Guideposts “inspirational prayers” blog, she explains that she had no method for choosing the person for whom she prayed, that she simply would see someone and feel she should ask if she could pray for them.
Once, while I was standing in front of a hotel along with a few strangers, I smiled at a remark that a loving, grandmotherly woman had made. She started conversing with me and was prompted to ask why I was there. When I told her for a relative’s funeral, she asked if I were a Christian and could she pray for me. Yes and yes I replied. Her God-inspired prayer, followed by a hug, lifted my spirits.
Like this woman and Jordan, my mother was a prayer. She offered all kinds of prayers each day — for situations, places, weather and people, including those she knew and those she didn’t. I never envisioned that I might be called to follow her example.
During the intercessory portion of my Morning Prayer, most days now, a name will enter my thoughts. It used to be a single name, now, it’s usually multiple names, just first names, and sometimes unusual names which I normally couldn’t pronounce correctly if I were reading them. Almost none of the names are associated with people I know. Whoever they are, whatever their circumstances, for a brief instant, I hold them in my heart before our Lord.
Rarely a first and last name will pop into my head. Curious, I recently searched two of these names on the internet. One belonged to a woman who had just been hired as a new editor for a publication in a small town near me, but about whom I would have had no way of hearing. Another was for a student basketball player, listed on Carebridge.org, who was fighting for health and recovery. It remains a mystery what happened to these people. I only hope that my prayers for them were somehow a help.
Praying for a faceless stranger feels different than praying for an individual we have not met but for whom a friend or family member has asked us to pray. On the surface it seems easier to be in community with those to whom we have an indirect connection. But if we respond to hearing an unknown name during prayer, there arises a temporary, mystical connection to another being and with them to God. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
For whom do you pray? Someone you see? Someone you have not met? Some unrecognized name the Holy Spirit puts in your mind?
Because we may have prayed for a stranger we have been given the hope that when we ourselves are in need, somewhere a stranger also prays for us.
“…pray for one another,…prayer…is powerful and effective”
— syn. James 5:16
Lexiann Grant is a retired writer & author, a former chalicer and layreader, but still an Episcopalian who enjoys encountering God in the mountain backcountry.