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Prayer in troubled times

Sister Denise Wilkinson in a moment of prayer.

Some days ago I received a request from a local newspaper reporter who was preparing an article about the 10th anniversary of the catastrophic events here in the U.S. on 9/11/01. She asked me if I thought people tended to turn to prayer at times of tragedy or turmoil. If so, why did I think that was so?

I have to admit, I was uncomfortable with the questions. Maybe not as uncomfortable with the questions as with being asked to comment on others’ reasons, motives, hopes when they turn their attention to God in time of personal and communal shock, trauma, suffering, death. So much of how each of us prays and why we pray are shaped by how each of us understands who God is and how God works in our lives, how God makes Holy Presence known in our lives.

Prayer is the fruit of each one’s relationship with God and to comment on that intimate and powerful relationship with generalities seems – well – irreverent to me. At the same time, I found myself intrigued by the reporter’s questions and wanting to respond.

Let me share with you what I shared with the reporter, adding the disclaimer that I speak only for myself – out of my experience of God and belief in the Providence of God. I make no claims that what I write is anyone else’s truth but mine!

At times of tragedy or disaster, many of us, in many faith traditions, do turn to prayer. I think our reasons for doing so can be complicated, multiple and highly personal.

Sisters of Providence prepare for a Peace Vigil on the first anniversary of Sept. 11.

One reason may be that the senseless deaths of many, the massive destruction effected by natural or human forces threaten our individual and collective sense of security, of safety. Feeling powerless, we turn to a higher power, to God. I believe part of my motivation is to regain some sense of well-being, some feeling that somehow God’s love continues to hold me and us securely. Somehow I hope to be able to feel what Saint Mother Theodore experienced when she wrote (echoing the words of St. Julian of Norwich): “All will be well.”

I also believe (and experience in myself) that death and destruction “offend” us; it seems to us that they just shouldn’t happen – more to the point, be allowed to happen. How many times we have heard, thought, said: “Why did, how can God let this happen?” So perhaps, when the awful happens, we turn to prayer hoping for answers, for clearness, for an “explanation.”

Perhaps your experience in these moments has been similar to mine. What happens in prayer is not always a crystal clear answer to the question so much as an experience of being comforted, understood, held in my anguish and distress.

So much of what the human family and Earth are suffering result from human decision-making. So I find that it is only through prayer and solidarity with others that I find the courage to live the mission of the Congregation, to engage in “works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people.” I pray then to find the will and strength to respond in compassion and in service.

Certainly, at times of disaster and destruction, I turn to prayer as a way of being in solidarity with all those affected by the events. I consciously and lovingly hold them in my love and compassion, knowing they are my sisters and brothers. Believing prayer is a powerful force, an energy for the good, I know that prayer is effective action and makes a difference in the lives of all affected by the tragedy.

Finally, at least for myself, I turn to prayer as comfort and consolation for myself. Prayer brings me back to knowing – deep, deep inside myself – that our God is a loving God who holds each and all in love.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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1 Comment

  1. Jenny Nowalk, PA on December 5, 2015 at 11:01 am

    Sister Denise…..hope you don’t mind…….I thought this was very much worth sharing at this time…..with all of my family and friends. I am so blessed to call myself an Associate.

    God Bless You!


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