by David Sisler
A small boy was misbehaving in church. His father told him to stop, to sit still, to be quiet. Finally, the last time became the last time, and he picked his son up, tucked him under his arm and headed for the back door. A parental ceremony of "the laying on of hands" was about to commence. With a pleading look and a cry for help, the little boy squirmed around and shouted, "Pray saints!"
Since Tuesday, 9/11, our day of national emergency, we have been praying. And praying like we have not prayed in a long, long time.
I don't know if she would admit to it or not, but ABC's Diane Sawyer may have prayed the first prayer at 9:03 a.m. as she, and many of us, watched United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the World Trade Center's south tower. Momentarily speechless, Ms. Sawyer then whispered, "Oh my God!"
Samuel Johnson was one of the most important English writers of the eighteenth century, producing among other works, the Dictionary of the English Language, the most important dictionary for 150 years (it was eventually superceded only by the Oxford English Dictionary). Johnson was once asked what the strongest argument for prayer was, and he replied, "There is no argument for prayer." Prayer, Johnson meant, is a natural tendency.
Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Melanie Kirkpatrick said, "I heard these words Tuesday morning, 'May God have mercy on their souls,' uttered by the woman standing next to me in a street three blocks north of the World Trade Center. I had just emerged from the subway station, and we were together in the sea of people gazing up at the fireballs spewing from upper reaches of the Twin Towers. She spoke in full throat, as if she wanted to make sure that God could hear. That was the first of many prayers I heard that day."
On Friday, September 14, high school football games here in Georgia were cancelled. Across the Savannah River in South Carolina, the games went on. The next morning, newspaper reports detailed how, at every contest, fans stood and prayed. Some used the familiar, comforting words of The Lord's Prayer, others prayed extemporaneously, but whatever the words, people prayed.
Why was it that it was okay to pray at a football game on the 14th, but not on the 7th?
Because on the 11th we were reminded - forcefully, horribly - that we are frail creatures, easily destroyed. We were reminded that when God created humankind and gave us the freedom to choose our own paths, some people will choose to do desperately wicked deeds. We were reminded that control of our lives is often not up to us. We were reminded that in the next blink of an eye, we may step from this world into eternity.
And it scared us.
And it drove us to our knees - where we should have been all the time.
For years we have moaned that we cannot pray in school. That was never true. What was prohibited was a state sponsored, or an officially designated prayer. We could always pray. We just did not. Whining is easier.
It is true that the issue of separation of church and state became issue of the separation of the state from the church. But while special interest groups attacked our religious freedoms, and courts ruled in their favor, most of us sat quietly by and did little more than wring our hands. We gave doubt and skepticism free reign.
After the twin towers of the World Trade Center disappeared in dust and smoke and flames, after the side of the Pentagon was crashed in, after an airliner plowed into Pennsylvania soil, and we started counting the dead and treating the wounded, we folded our hands and prayed. And since Tuesday, September 11, we have dared anyone, even the henchmen of Osama bin Laden, to stop us from praying.
"Americans, it is now evident, are less cynical than we had feared," David Wessel wrote. "All of us hug our spouses and our kids a little harder these days."
And we pray. As a nation, we have rediscovered the necessity of prayer. It is a discovery we must cherish and a power we must use. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord God Almighty promised, "Call until me, and I will answer you!" This is no time to doubt his Word.
Samuel Johnson once prayed, "O Lord, in whose hands are life and death, by whose power I am sustained, and by whose mercy I am spared, look down upon me with pity. Forgive me that I have until now so much neglected the duty which Thou hast assigned to me… Make me to remember, O God, that every day is Thy gift, and ought to be used according to Thy command. Grant me, therefore, so to repent of my negligence, that I may obtain mercy from Thee, and pass the time which Thou shalt yet allow me in diligent performance of Thy commands."
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