LUKE'S record of Christ Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan who stopped to help ``a certain man'' who ``fell among thieves,'' doesn't mention any praying that the wounded man might have done either before or after he was cared for by a complete stranger. Still, knowing how natural it is for people to pray when they are in trouble, I have sometimes thought about the redeeming bond that would have been likely to spring up between the man and his benefactor. I've found that those impulses of compassion and generosity are as real today as they were in Jesus' time, with prayer -- even inarticulate prayer -- as the link that enables us to trust in the power of God's love. I recall an illustration in my own life. While staying in another country, I received crushing news. Late one afternoon, still trying to cope with this information, I took a walk on a deserted path along the coast. I was praying silently, desperately, to regain some equilibrium. But the only coherence in my prayer was a meek trust that my Father, God, would somehow provide for me.
After about twenty minutes I ``fell among thieves,'' you might say -- I lost control emotionally and sat beside an old stone wall, weeping. I tried to think the words of the Lord's Prayer, but they were scarcely clear in my mind.
I had at last mumbled through the first six words (``Our Father which art in heaven'') when I heard someone ask, ``Are you all right?'' I couldn't answer. The voice drew closer, ``Can I help?''
``Do you know the Lord's Prayer? Could you say it to me?'' I managed to say. And then slowly, gently, this Samaritan voiced those strong, healing words out loud. When I could, I joined in. I think we may have said it twice.
I recall at the end thinking how remarkable was God's provision -- and yet how natural, somehow, for two strangers to stand on a barren seacoast, saying the Lord's Prayer out loud together. Soon I felt calm, able to thank this friend. ``I'll walk you back to town'' he insisted, and so we returned there, conversing easily as new acquaintances will.
Later, thinking back on the incident, I felt certain that it was trust in God and the prayer that voiced that trust that had brought me help in a specific and tangible way. It's not that certain words are said, and then we look again at the trouble or hurt to see if anything has happened to it. The prayer itself -- even if only whispered the best we can -- lifts us to a spiritual context for thought and expectation. Perhaps, in a sense, the prayer itself is our Samaritan. It discovers us where we are, turns hope into evidence of good.
In a small volume called Pulpit and Press, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, speaks of the unifying power of the Lord's Prayer. ``All Christian churches have one bond of unity, one nucleus or point of convergence, one prayer, -- the Lord's Prayer. It is matter for rejoicing that we unite in love, and in this sacred petition with every praying assembly on earth, -- `Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.'''
This bonding of Christians -- or indeed of all people who turn to God as a helper when in need -- spans countries and cultures, time and the snares of politics or despair. And through our contacts with others we find -- with joy and perhaps in unexpected ways -- the shared recognition that prayer meets daily and compelling needs.