Jan 27, 2009
The story of the proud and vital man who has lost his power and nobility is a recurrent theme, especially at the movies. Films have specialized in showing us the washed-up boxer (The Set-Up, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Fat City) and cowboy (Red River, The Gunfighter, Unforgiven). The late director Sam Peckinpah crafted a film career around stories about men who had outlived their time, including lawmen (Ride the High Country), rodeo riders (Junior Bonner) and ruthless killers (The Wild Bunch).
People have asked me to pray for them or for their loved ones all my adult life. I practice intercessory prayer very seriously, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what I’m doing. Is intercession magical thinking? Does something actually change somewhere else when I pray? Doesn’t God know our needs before we ask? What’s the use of praying when I can’t actually go actively help? Despite these questions I’m faithful to the practice, if only because praying for other people and for the world makes me a better person.
For many African churches, the all-night vigil is a centerpiece of devotion and is not limited to any particular season. The event commonly begins at 9 or 10 p.m., usually on a Friday, and runs until four or five the following morning. Particularly among the independent or African-instituted churches, prayer is accompanied by acts of healing and exorcism. These services commonly draw thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people. Night vigils also flourish among the booming evangelical and Pentecostal churches of South Korea, where hundreds of thousands pass their Friday nights in prayer and praise. In terms of timing, endurance and mass appeal, the closest Western parallels to these Christian celebrations would be found in dance clubs and rave parties in major cities.
Older and wiser: Henry Alford, 46, has written a book about old age based on conversations with more than 100 people over 70 (How to Live). Althea Washington, a retired school teacher, lost her husband and house in Hurricane Katrina and now lives in a small apartment close to train tracks. When asked how she's coping, she responded: "Can you hear that train? As long as it stays on its tracks, I'll stay on mine" (USA Today, December 30).