Prayer in the Public Square: Heartbreak Hill and Heartfelt Prayer

facebook prayers

“…My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them besides those already gathered”
Isaiah 56:7-8 (NRSV)

I learned about the Boston Marathon tragedy through the post of a Facebook friend, who shared an article from  that first appeared as breaking news, shortly following the explosions. In response, I posted the following extemporaneous prayer on Facebook as a comment to the article:

yvonne facebook imageYvonne Lembo · Works at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

God have mercy on all those involved. Help those first responders who are attending to those injured. Grant your peace, strength, courage and healing presence among all those effected. Shine your light of truth to reveal the cause of this tragedy and bring justice and restoration. And may this horrible tragedy not mark the end of this longstanding good will event that has brought together people from all over the world to participate and support. As the athletes have prepared themselves for this test of endurance, may those who oversee the Boston Marathon also prepare themselves to endure and overcome this Heartbreak Hill.

Later that evening, returning to Facebook, I was astounded to find 1700+ likes and nearly 100 comments on my post! Only two of those responses were from people in my network of Facebook of friends. The other 1,800+ likes and comments were from people I’ve never met or heard of before – people completely beyond any of the circles I’m familiar with, and in some cases part of causes that I question —  a used car dealer from Framingham, MA; a Hyatt Regency staff person in Scottsdale, AZ; a faculty member at the University of Toronto; a Sr. High student from Garden City; a Tea Party supporter from the University of Leeds, an NRA supporter from Gun for Hire-America’s Urban Defense Institute!  Responses came from South Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, even a commenter from Israel! Complete strangers, we were now strangely linked in a worldwide web of prayer, courtesy of Fox News! Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.

There were thousands of likes, hundreds of Amens! and many affirmations and words of encouragement. There were also peppery words of dissent, anguished, angry cries of doubt, despair, disgust and damnation – heartfelt expressions of lament. Together, these responses formed a living breathing tapestry of prayer, pulsating with human expression, experience, emotion housed in the presence of the Living One.

It was a holy encounter. I felt as if God were showing me a microcosm of the living dynamics of prayer – how words uttered to God know no boundaries and have far-reaching ripple effects in human hearts, how our words of blessing or cursing resound on earth and in heaven. How, as public theologians, our words impact the public square, giving voice for the voiceless, consoling, empowering, provoking – invoking God as part of the conversation.

God’s dwelling place houses prayer for all people. God receives prayers from people from every station of life; people of every race and place, people of every party and persuasion, people who say Amen! and even those who say God damn! Through the Boston Marathon tragedy God gathered us who were scattered threads, alien to each other’s lives, outcast from each other’s communities — into a living web, a holy fabric, a network of human interaction with the Divine.

If you’d like to browse through the comments and likes you can find them on my Facebook page here: or on the Boston Fox News website here:


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