Rub your hands together with me. I don’t doubt the power of prayer or hand sanitizer. I use both and my health is better for it. My bottle of hand sanitizer says it “kills 99 percent of germs without water.” I suspect that the effectiveness of prayer hovers somewhere above that, though I still wring my hands afterwards. Endorsed by my grandmother and her mother before that, I put my hands together and pray.
James, the brother of Jesus, is not specific. He offers no percentages as to the success rate of prayer. In chapter five of his letter to the churches dispersed, he does talk of the prayer of faith and the healing of the sick, writing, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). He says that we should call for the elders if anyone is sick. All hands in. When persons are ill, prayer is a group effort.
Effective? But we cannot touch each other. We have been asked to keep our distance, six feet apart as our family members, neighbors, friends, and even strangers we empathize with sink six feet deep. Effective! But how do we know this to be true when bodies are piling up outside the morgue, when death is coming quicker and by the thousands?
Like the bottle of hand sanitizer, which also moisturizes my hands, prayer has a claim, an endorsement: Jesus’ younger brother, James. Jesus is a household name. But do we really believe it when we are in our homes for weeks now, hunkered down, hoarding the essentials? Do we really buy it when stocks fall repeatedly and we are scraping the bottom; when our hands can no longer hold it together; when days blend together so we cannot keep it together; when, no matter what we cut back, we cannot make ends come together?
Jesus says of prayer, “Pray for those who persecute you” and don’t be a hypocrite when you do it (Matthew 5:44, 6:15). “Ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7). But who asked for this pandemic in Jesus’ name? My friend wanted a break from the classroom and assures me that she prayed for more snow days. When I talked to another friend, he wondered aloud about his conversations with God, “What more can I say?”
The Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has brought the world together and most of business as usual to a screeching halt. “Quarantined” is now the most used word to describe our lives. We aren’t going anywhere, not to work or school, not on vacation or to the grocery store like we used to. We all want to make it out of this global pandemic alive. But if we are to survive these close quarters, then we will also need a strong Wi-Fi signal and multiple streaming services. We are addressing our needs from all angles and not apologizing for increased screen time, movie time, eating times.
Likewise, life is closing in on us. I have bottles of hand sanitizer in my car and in my house. I am rubbing my hands together every time I enter and exit the park for a morning walk, the supermarket for my weekly grocery run and my car just to be safe. But I am also putting my hands together with the hope that I am joining with other elders in their prayer houses to pray for the sick among us and all around us. Yes, I am rubbing my hands to ensure that the hand sanitizer kills 99 percent of these germs and thereafter, putting my hands together, trusting James, that the success rate of my petitions is higher.