The Mourning Woman Who Taught the Priest How to *Really* Pray, or, The Power of (Even Silent) Prayer After Terrorist Attacks

There was once a couple who was not able to have children together. The woman felt alone and mourned regularly. Her husband loved her deeply.

It was her habit to go into a local sanctuary that had open prayer times during the day. Another woman in town, if you can believe it, would tease and provoke her over her not being able to bear children. So she wept bitterly and would go long periods of time without eating.

One day her husband said to her, “Why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad?”

She could not respond, except to go back to that sanctuary and pray.

* * * * * * *

One day the priest was there, close to where she was praying.

The woman was utterly distressed and prayed to God, weeping openly as she prayed.

She made a promise of sorts: “O Almighty God, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give me a child… I will devote him entirely to you.”

As she prayed the priest started watching her mouth. He noticed that she prayed silently. Her lips were moving, but he couldn’t hear any sound come out of her mouth. He thought maybe she was drunk.

* * * * * * *

So the priest, a man named Eli, said to her, “Hannah, How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”

She responded:

No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.

Eli responded, as with a change of heart, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”

* * * * * * *

Prayer, as it turns out, is not a silent, impotent act.

Even those prayers we can’t fully voice—where our lips are barely moving—reach God.

The prayer of one of God’s beloved is powerful and effective, as Jesus’ brother James tells us.

So keep praying. Keep your lips moving, even if no sound is coming out.

Keep praying though you are in despair. Keep praying when you feel helpless and hopeless and powerless. Keep praying when evil seems to have the upper hand.

Keep praying in times of drought, in times of death and destruction, in times of violence and terror, and in times of fear and confusion and sadness.

Through our prayers and the prayers of others, we are healed. Our words uttered to God plant us in the soil of his love, and we are saved. The prayers of God’s children are powerful and effective.

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