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Needed: more effective prayer

A Christian Science perspective.

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I had, of course, seen reports about Israeli and Palestinian civilian casualties during the intense fighting last year in Gaza. But the human side of the conflict suddenly came into sharper focus when a college classmate of mine lost two brothers there – gunned down and denied medical aid as they attempted to return home with their father during a lull in the fighting.

I joined hundreds from my school who expressed their sympathy and support for this fellow student and his family. Many of these heartfelt wishes, posted on Facebook and expressed in personal messages, were echoes of the oft-repeated sentiment, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you." Such an offer of prayer is often the loving first response in the face of personal and global tragedy. But next to such intense human suffering, in some cases a genuinely compassionate statement like that can sound like little more than a perfunctory sound bite. To the humanitarian worker dodging shellfire to bring needed food and supplies to trapped Gazan civilians, or to the Israeli mother wondering if her children are safe at school, the words "Our thoughts and prayers are with you" could sound hollow.

This is a far cry from the biblical portrayal of prayer as an effective way to bring peace to the world and to heal sorrow and sickness. Both the Old and New Testament are full of accounts describing the tremendous accomplishments of those who turned to God throughout Israel's history – a truly remarkable heritage for the inhabitants of that region today.

The recognition that prayer can actually do something should be the foundation of the statement "Our thoughts and prayers are with you." When hearing tragic news, I've found it important to focus on the impossibility of any separation between anyone and God – that is, to get directly to the root of sorrow and pain with that truth.

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