She ducked out of the meeting from time to time as her cellphone rang. The rest of us focused on the work at hand, mindful of her absences but not calling attention to them.
Kristina was a Presbyterian minister engaged in disaster relief. We knew when she flew in for our meeting that she had left a small coastal community in Louisiana sorting through a host of problems - the aftermath of a recent hurricane and ecological devastation from oil drilling and other industries, as well as decades of poverty and neglect.
A copy of a recent issue of National Geographic she carried with her was dog-eared on an article detailing the massive challenges to the area where her village was located. Just a few pictures gave us a glimpse into the world of need she knew so well.
It was only as her phone summoned her yet again that we began to suspect something more urgent was occurring.
Another storm surge now threatened this community. The water was rising quickly. We overheard her calling to check on an elderly man alone in his house, a young mother at home with her children, a co-worker on the spot.
She came back to the table and sat down slowly.
Her eyes welled up. "Pray with me," she said simply.
Hand grasping hand, we all stood and formed a circle. She began by praying aloud, asking God to help this little village and the people in it. Then it was my turn to contribute an audible prayer.
It was a difficult moment for me. I come out of a tradition of silent, meditative prayer. What more could I ask God to do than what this compassionate minister had already asked for?
In the few seconds I took to collect my thoughts, I felt all that I had ever learned about healing prayer come together in my heart. And, with trepidation for words I did not know would come, I found myself simply acknowledging out loud God's loving presence already there in that community. My request was not for God to do more, but to help each of us feel and know more fully that divine Love was at hand to protect and guide and care for everyone, that the will of God was benevolent and kind and inclusive. No one could be left out.
A moment of silence passed, and then the woman on my right added her prayers aloud. When each of us had finished, Kristina again prayed a final prayer. She was clearly moved by the spiritual solidarity we gave her, and yet still saddened, even overwhelmed by the human needs flooding her thoughts like the dark waters at the edge of her village.
The unspoken question that hung in the air for all of us was "What can such prayer accomplish?" How do mere words bring a solution to problems that seem both acute and chronic?
For me, the opening chapter on prayer in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy has expanded my understanding of what happens when we commune with Deity. Since God is infinite and all-knowing, we can't inform our divine Creator of something we think has been overlooked. And since God is eternal and unwavering Love, we can't implore for more than is always engaged.
As we explore what God is through spiritual reflection and meditation, we begin to see the holes in our faith fill with new confidence that divine goodness is already active right in the very situation where lack seems most evident. Prayer is the means of changing our outlook on what is happening. It stimulates our spiritual sense - our spiritual awareness - of God's nearness and Allness.
In a passage from another work, Mary Baker Eddy observed, "Prayer can neither change God, nor bring His designs into mortal modes; but it can and does change our modes and our false sense of Life, Love, and Truth, uplifting us to Him" ("No and Yes," page 39).
The inspiration that comes through prayer lifts us up and out of the pit of spiritual discouragement, equips us with fresh hope and faith, and impels us toward actions that are consistent with restoration and progress.
We didn't hear from Kristina again, but as I watched the news reports from the area, her community wasn't mentioned. Wherever human suffering occurs, there is a need for prayer. Kristina's quiet plea - "Pray with me" - is an open invitation. Each of us is called to acknowledge a higher power guiding and preserving the precious lives of all involved.
Time and again, I find my thoughts returning to that bayou in Louisiana, to a town I've never seen, to people I've never met. Their welfare is something I've come to care about deeply. That is the power of prayer. It changes us.
the Lord is in this place;
and I knew it not.