The Prayer of Presence

December 17, 2013

The nurses came from work in Manhattan still dressed in their uniform greens to be there. The teachers came after a day in the classroom, papers still to be graded and suppers with loved ones forgone. Longtime college friends came from north Jersey and Brooklyn and Connecticut, braving the horrendous rush hour traffic. They came to say words of comfort, to pay their respects for the death of Mary, a wife and mother and grandmother who was not theirs. They did not have to come. But they did.

I used to wonder about the value of the wake, the strange gathering of people to view the body of the departed. It seemed at one time to me to be a cultural relic, part of a ritual now somehow out of place in the modern world. It was, after all, not really the person, just the shell that once contained them.

However, I’ve come to realize that it is not so much about the deceased but rather about those who are left behind. Sister James gave my thoughts a shape in words that evening, that everyone’s presence was a prayer.

It matters not what is said, what formalities of culture or religion are observed. What matters is presence. A look. A touch. A smile. These are the prayers that matter, the prayers that go beyond what is learned to the realm of the heart where things are felt.

I can not find adequate words to thank those who offered this most special of prayers.  But I trust that those who offered their prayer of presence know how special, how comforting, how moving it is to those who have suffered a loss. These thanks too are a matter of the heart, and my heart is full.


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