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What Should We Pray For?

Times religion writers William Lobdell and Larry B. Stammer last week surveyed area clergy on the question--What should we pray for as we struggle in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks? Some responses:

‘I pray that we do not become mirror images’

Rabbi Allen Krause

Temple Beth El, Aliso Viejo

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In the Midrash, which is a collection of Scripture commentaries written by our sages, there is a short sermon based on the Tower of Babel story which I find extremely relevant today.

The question the sage asked is: Why did God stop the construction of the tower? His answer: As the tower grew higher and higher, hundreds of workers would proceed up a narrow path to the top, each of them carrying on their back a load of bricks.

It so happened that one of the workers, high up on his way to the top, stumbled and fell and came crashing to the earth. People gathered around his lifeless body and moaned: “How will we ever replace the shattered bricks he was carrying?” It is then that God decided to stop the construction of the tower.

What I pray for is that we learn to value each individual life rather than bricks; one life in New York or in Afghanistan is of infinitely more value than any political or religious cause. In our desire for justice, I pray that we do not become mirror images of the Bin Ladens of this planet.

‘The toughest kind of prayer is demanded of us’

The Rev. Ignacio Castuera

St. John’s United Methodist Church, Watts

People of faith obviously first must pray for the dead and those closest to them who mourn them, the wounded and those who tend to them, the workers who are cleaning up and their safety. Then the toughest kind of prayer is demanded of us and that is contemplative prayer.

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“Contemplate” means to look at everything as if one were carrying a temple around one’s eyes, con templo. This means that all the best ideals that are proclaimed inside our holy places must inform the way we look at everything, including the perpetrators of this dastardly deed.

Contemplative prayers will lead us to invoke guidance for the leaders of the nations to act in ways that do not multiply the pain we already feel.

The 23rd Psalm has comforted people in tough situations for generations untold. We must pray this psalm and ponder the meaning of the statement “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

This is an incredible alternative to the well-substantiated and researched “fight or flight” response to enemies. It is the recognition that God prepares a banquet not for me but before me, thereby opening the possibility of ending the enmity. It is precisely this concept in Judaism that led Jesus to teach “love your enemies.”

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Tough prayers for a tough time.

‘God grants us a lot of slack when we pray’

Father Mike Heher

St. Ienaeus Catholic Church, Cypress

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If the psalms are any indication, I think God grants us a lot of slack when we pray. There you find pleas for vengeance, expressions of worry and fear, delight at the suffering of one’s enemies and appeals for guidance in troubled times. You hear confident prayers and complaints of feeling forsaken, even of rage.

Whatever we’re going through, God seems willing to be with us in it. Like a good friend, God’s presence wraps around us as we grieve and worry and question and hope for healing and comfort.

That doesn’t mean God thinks we should act with vengeful hearts or be unforgiving or do unto one’s enemies what they have done to us. My hunch is that God stays with us in prayer until we come to the point when we have finished telling God what we want to be done and become prepared to know and carry out the divine will.

Let’s also cut each other a lot of slack in these dark days. The horrors strike very deep parts of our psyches; dealing with them is very messy. In a single day, we often run through many, conflicting emotions.

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We don’t need advice, I suspect, but trusted friends who, like God, will struggle with us as we make our way through the days to come.

‘Christ’s first disciples moved beyond their fears’

The Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno

Bishop coadjutor of the

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Episcopal Diocese of

Los Angeles

“We pray at this time with the awareness that the evil we witnessed on Sept. 11 is not the last word. We pray mindful that the Christian Gospel asks us to move from fear to faith. We hear the voice of Jesus calling out from the Gospels saying to you and me: “Do not be afraid.”

We pray remembering that Christ’s first disciples moved beyond their fears and the horrors of the cross to experience the reality of the resurrection. We pray with the awareness that God transformed Christ’s own cross of death into the tree of eternal life.

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We pray giving thanks to God for every rescue worker, for every donor of blood, talent or treasure to assist relief efforts, for every person whose acts of caring and self-sacrifice are helping to ease the deep pain of these days.

‘Stay the America we want’

Maher Hathout, spokesman,

Islamic Center of Southern

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California

I pray for the safety of America to stay the America we want it always, which is an America for all people of all religions, the country of civil liberties and a beacon for freedom. We pray to protect our society from the ignorant fanatics and the wicked opportunists because they can tear our unified society against each other.

‘Look more closely’

The Rev. Kusala

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International Buddhist

Meditation Center, Los Angeles

As a Buddhist monk I am taught this world of ours is ultimately filled with old age, sickness, death and birth. This world is called Samsara in Buddhism, where birth and death remind me not to get too attached because there is nothing to hold on to that can lead to everlasting happiness.

On Sept. 11, the greed, hatred, and delusion of a few became the cause of great suffering for many. The unskillful actions we saw on that day caused many people to question the meaning of life--to look more closely at their relationships with country, state, city, family and friends.

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And some found the secular language of everyday living inadequate and not useful in explaining why so many people had to die in such horrible ways. The clergy was asked to interpret these events in a way the heart could understand.

The holy texts became a starting point. And each tradition in their own special way arranged the pieces and created a picture of the challenge we as human beings find ourselves involved in.

This human life of ours is filled with many choices: greed or generosity, hatred or loving kindness, delusion or wisdom. It’s our choice, our world and our community.

‘Pray that our world will come to sanity.’

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Bishop Charles E. Blake

West Angeles Church of God in Christ

We pray for and hurt with those who were injured.

We pray for the souls of the dead, that even in the midst of their dying, they were comforted and saved by the grace of God.

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We pray for those still alive beneath the rubble.

May they continue to live to talk about their miracle.

We pray for our leaders who now plot the course of our response.

We pray for the military men and women who must carry out that response.

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We pray that innocent and defenseless civilians will not also be devastated by our response.

We pray that our world will come to sanity and turn to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God help us all. God have mercy on us all.

‘You get to work’

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Rabbi Karen Bender

Temple Judea, Tarzana

Please God, say: “I promise there will be no more terror. I promise that I will protect your children.”

But human beings have free will and what God would really say is, “Do not wait for my miracles. You get to work to heal the world.”

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