Of all the pictures of the tsunami victims that appeared in last week's newspaper, the one that would not leave me was of a woman, alone, about my age. She holds her head in her hand; her fingernails are cracked and caked with mud; her eyes are cast down, vacant and lifeless. She is beyond terror, beyond grief, lost in a desolation deeper than any words can express.
I look and look again, then turn the page.
But I cannot forget her face. Later in the day, I find myself retrieving the newspaper from the recycling bin, cutting out her picture and placing it in a Lucite holder on my prayer table, between the blue porcelain angel my son gave me for Christmas and the candle on the silver tray given me by a friend, which reads: "The light of God surrounds you. The love of God enfolds you." The candle shines on her pain.
Somehow I want her to know. To know what? That I noticed? That I care? That what happens to her matters to me. What difference would that make?
I sit down to pray, and the word "kything" comes to mind. It is a term I haven't thought of in years, not since reading to my children Madeleine L'Engle's classic story "A Wind in the Door." Kything is the term L'Engle uses to describe the wordless way the cherubim --- and a few enlightened humans --- communicate. It is a deep intuitive communing, heart to heart, soul to soul. When Meg "kythes" with her absent brother, Charles Wallace, she seems to be with him, "not in person, but in her heart."
Am I being invited to kythe with this woman? What does that mean?
On the bookshelf of a friend, I find a book by Louis Savary and Patricia Berne, "Kything: The Art of Spiritual Presence." The purpose of kything, they say, "is spiritual presence." It is slightly different from traditional intercessionary prayers that are a part of so many faith traditions.
It is a way to channel God's healing energy to people in need --- across time and space, to people we know and people we don't know, to people alive and those who have crossed over. It doesn't require any elaborate training or special skill, just a loving heart and a desire to care for the world's people on God's behalf. Children can kythe as well as adults, even better because they don't have to wonder about how it works.
If I agree to assume the task of praying for this woman in this way, I am invited to follow a simple, step-by-step process: I begin by getting relaxed and centered. I become aware of God's loving presence and bring to mind an image of this woman. I affirm my desire to connect with her in her suffering, and offer a simple prayer for her. Then I visualize God's love surrounding, consoling and strengthening her. Somehow my willingness to do my part unleashes the power of God.
The choice is mine: to turn the page or stay and pray in faith. I sit with her now each evening before I go to bed in my warm house in my quiet neighborhood, with food in the fridge and money in the bank. Praying this way puts me in touch with her suffering in a way that hurts me, and yet I am sure in this connection something good is being born. Not in her but in me --- a deepening gratitude for the gift of my own life; a deepening compassion for this woman and her people who are in the end my sisters and brothers. I can't give her back her home or her family, but I can offer her a few minutes of my time, my prayer and my love. I can thank her for the difference she has made in my life, by giving me a way to love as God loves and share in God's great care for the world.