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Handling Homelessness with Prayer

The San Francisco Chronicle, along with more than 70 other Bay Area news outlets, joined forces recently to draw attention to the problem of homelessness. “We see the misery around us,” they wrote in an open letter, addressed to the city and people of San Francisco, “and we sense it is worsening.”

As someone who has lived here for more than a decade, I’ve often felt the same. I am heartened, however, whenever I see organizations like these refusing, as they put it, to let such a seemingly intractable situation become the “new normal,” or “to let a desire for the perfect solution become the enemy of the good.” Indeed, it will likely take many solutions – many people and many hands representing many public and private entities, all working together – before we see an end to homelessness.

I’m reminded of the Bible story of the Good Samaritan, a man who took it upon himself to help someone who had been beaten by thieves and left for dead. He did what he could – cleaning and dressing the man’s wounds and so forth – before bringing him to a nearby inn. The next day, he gave the innkeeper some money, saying, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” A simple yet elegant example of two individuals working together using whatever resources they had to help their fellow man.

I don’t know that I’d call myself a Good Samaritan, but I have had occasion every now and then to help someone in need in small ways – offering to pay for a man’s overnight in a homeless shelter, buying someone’s lunch a handful of times. But to be honest, I think the most valuable thing I have to offer is prayer.

To me, prayer acts as a kind of mental reinforcement for the efforts of the many people – social workers and police officers, doctors and nurses, not to mention countless community volunteers – doing everything they can to address this problem.

I get it that for many, perhaps most, prayer is pretty much the equivalent of doing nothing. Obviously that’s not the way I see it. In instances where both a family member and a lifelong friend found themselves living on the streets, I was able to witness firsthand the effect that a persistent, prayer-based desire to support the innate dignity of a loved one played in inspiring and empowering the efforts of those individuals who came to their aid.

“True prayer is not asking God for love; it is learning to love, and to include all mankind in one affection,” writes Christian theologian and community activist Mary Baker Eddy. “Prayer is the utilization of the love where with He loves us.”

Prayer isn’t about sitting around and hoping things will get better. It’s about seeing through “the misery around us,” as The Chronicle describes it, and being willing to act on divine inspiration, with divine support, for the benefit of both others and ourselves. Even if those we’re praying for haven’t the foggiest idea where this support is coming from, they can’t help but see and feel its effect.

And neither can we.

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