Note: This post now also featured on Huffington Post Religion.
When we go through trying times people say, "You're in my prayers," or the more secular, "in my thoughts," or, "I'm sending you good vibes." Especially today, with the news of an 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan, followed by tsunamis throughout the Pacific, many people will do more than send thoughts and prayers, they will send money (link - or Text 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross). It's all energy or representations of it, and it allows us to act on, and cultivate, empathy.
It's in these moments that people who doubt the efficacy of prayer, or good thoughts, are perhaps more open to understanding how they work. In the face of tragedy and tremendous shifts, not only in nature but in society, our thoughts and prayers may be all we have to offer, so we want to know they work. We practice, praying or meditating daily, to remove doubt, to strengthen our connection to something greater than ourselves.
We constantly hear how globally connected we are in trade, finance, politics, communications. When disaster strikes, we feel it, "our heart goes out to people," who lost lives, loved ones, homes, livelihood. We are connected. People who are more sensitive to energies will literally feel out of sorts, a little depressed or anxious, immediately before or after a catastrophic event; like our animal friends, sensing within, significant changes in nature, loss of life, or destruction. We are connected.
If you accept this premise on any level, or if you've ever heard the phrase, "It starts within," or loved Michael Jackson's song, "Man in the Mirror," because that phrase or song resonated within you, you understand how prayer works.
Buddhists practice meditation to bring calm and notice that all thoughts are transient. Fear, love, anger, hope, anxiety, joy: all transient. All we have is this moment and our reaction to it. Calm begets calm, fear begets fear. Recognizing both are transient, we can also recognize which we'd rather experience more of, and which less, and walk the middle path as best we can. Practice allows us to stay calm in the face of tragedy, thus not compounding it. Christians pray knowing the Christ within, the promise as Jesus taught that by connecting our hearts to our highest and best self in God, we can walk with the same compassion, healing, love and forgiveness He lived. By relinquishing our illusion of control, we release worry, fear, doubt, and find our way to calm, peace, faith.
What are we thinking as we see the devastation? Fear? Worry? Troubled times? What next?
Native Americans and other indigenous peoples teach not to pray "for peace" because that puts peace outside of us when the purpose of prayer is to recognize our connection within.
Instead, pray peace, knowing it within; pray healing, feeling it within; pray comfort and thanksgiving, recalling how they make you feel within. Then know, in your heart, that what you feel resonates to those in need, because we are connected.
Pray thanksgiving? What is there to be thankful for in the face of such tragedy?
First responders, relief agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations able to move resources quickly, building codes that lessened the loss of life (compare Japan to Haiti, then be thankful for another opportunity for humanity to learn from the impact of the maldistribution of wealth on all God's children). Be grateful even for the lives that are lost, who in their passing offer another opportunity to evaluate what is important, to realize the transient nature of all things.
As devastating as today is, every day brings untold desperation to people without homes, food, health care. Violence wreaks havoc in families and communities the world over as individuals and entire classes of people seek to be free from oppression in any form. The singular goal of profit-above-all-else cause a very few to deprive others -- entire communities -- of jobs, good schools, clean water, clean air, self-determination. Dogma and those who use religion as a means of control, force many people to live in fear. While we pray for people whose tragedies are in the headlines today, we also remember people whose challenges barely warrant mention in the media, compassion and journalism pushed aside by consumerism, celebrity culture, and trumped-up political fights that distract us from remembering on Earth, God's work is truly our own.
Perhaps we have to experience tragedy to remember how connected we are. Maybe that's what these turbulent times are teaching.
When you say Amen, Amin, Shalom, or whatever you say; let go, let God. Then if you can, help someone else today with your own good works. See someone you think you disagree with differently today, and know each small act of good sends ripples through the universe.