Dunphy: The growls of empty stomachs – Alton Telegraph

Posted: May 9, 2017 at 3:13 pm

My hometown of Alton, Illinois participated in the National Day of Prayer last Thursday by holding a prayer meeting at the Alton YWCA. According to one media source, participants offered prayers for the church and racial healing, for the sanctity of life, for business, emergency personnel and ministry to the sick, education, the media, the family, government and the military.

Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, celebrated National Day of Prayer by voting to repeal Obamacare. Nothing expresses ones love of God quite like taking health insurance away from millions of people.

A meme dealing with prayer popped up in my Facebook feed the previous week. It featured a photo of Pope Francis as well as a quotation from the pontiff that read: You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. Thats how prayer works.

Well, that was news to this columnist! The prayers I recall from my Catholic childhood generally fell into two categories: those asking forgiveness for a particular transgression; and those requesting divine intervention, such as healing of an illness or injury. I dont recall being taught or told to pray for the hungry. I have vivid memories, however, of being guilt-tripped into eating food I disliked when reminded there were starving people in India who would be glad to have it.

While applauding Francis mandate to feed the hungry, I found the first and last sentences of his quotation puzzling. If one fully intends to feed hungry people, why is it first necessary to pray for their hunger to be alleviated? Yes, I know the Old Testament tells of God feeding the hungry Hebrews with manna as they wandered in the desert. The New Testament tells of Jesus feeding hungry followers with miraculously-multiplied loaves and fishes. But Francis makes it quite clear that hes not depending on divine intervention in this instance. Hes talking about human beings feeding other human beings.

Why is it even necessary to pray for the hungry or even for the hungry to pray for themselves? Jesus clearly states in Matthew 6:7-8, And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. In other words, an omniscient God neednt be told that people are hungry.

When I shared this meme with a Facebook group that discusses pantheism, a New Zealander posted, Forget the first and last sentences. He got it at the second one. I replied that her comment reminded me of Robert Ingersolls famous assertion that The hands that help are better far than lips that pray. Ironically, Ingersolls observation isnt that radically different than James admonition in 2:15-16: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, Go in peace; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? The Great Agnostic and Jesus brother agreed that when it comes to alleviating hunger, actions trump words.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016. Hunger exists in our nation. According to Hunger Notes, 6.3 million households in 2015 had very low food security, while children were food insecure at times in 3 million households.

While I applaud Francis compassion for the disadvantaged, my commitment to practicality prompts me to make a suggestion. Rather than pray for the hungry and then feed them, I recommend that one feed these people and then pray for them. For those with empty stomachs, even the shortest prayer can seem interminably long.


John J. Dunphy is the author of Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois and Lewis and Clarks Illinois Volunteers. He owns The Second Reading Book Shop in Alton.


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Dunphy: The growls of empty stomachs - Alton Telegraph

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