You can now submit your prayers to God on-line.
You don't have to go to a mosque.
You don't have to go to a synagogue.
You don't have to go to a church.
You don't have to risk getting close to another living soul -in person.
You can go to prayabout.com and ipraytoday.com and post your prayer requests. There have been toll-free long distance services, according to the article in today's New York Times, where you could ask strangers to pray for you.
Now there are prayer networks on the internet. The sites, according to the story by Allen Salkin, are not all Christian. But they share a common belief that "the more people pray for something, it has a better chance of happening."
The most common prayers are, the article says, for physical healing. The second most requested prayers are for inner peace. Over the last few months the number of people requesting prayers about financial concerns have increased sharply.
The founder of prayabout.com, Rodger Desai, is quoted as saying: "The Internet is a perfect place to create a market for support and hope."
There are good things about this phenomenon. The fact the web sites exist is a confirmation of the spiritual hunger that can turn us all towards God. It is encouraging to see people recognizing the power of prayer, and to witness people caring about one another.
But a "perfect market for support and hope?" It seems pretty clear to me God had a better idea when God created the church. On our worst days, I know, the church is like a bad web site that deserves to crash. And we do. We mess up. We talk of grace and mutter words of judgment about one another. We talk about loving the world, feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, and then we can get so caught up in our own stuff that we are blind to the neighbor in need. So we have our bad days. But we have a lot of good days, too.
A lot of good days.
Approaching the sanctuary this morning I was approached by a woman who dissolved in tears. She was whispering into my "bad" ear and I had to turn my head to catch what she was saying. Her newly born grandchild was having physical complications, and was being considered for transport to a regional medical center. I wrapped my arms around her, I listened to her, and others quietly approached. She was surrounded by grace. Offered by living, breathing people.
After worship I noticed people standing around, in clusters, talking... listening...laughing. Toddlers were toddling...friends were telling friends they would be praying...a couple now living 3,000 miles away came over and we talked. They told me about their new life...their new chapter. There were these clusters of caring all around the room.
There is something in the human heart that hungers for real community, I believe. Person-to-person pray. In person. Doesn't matter how big Google gets...whatever the internet can do pales in comparison to the prayer support of the smallest, most rural gathering of genuine Jesus followers.