The suffering, pain, and hunger of the people of the world can overwhelm us and leave us hopeless and despairing. Images cry out to us from Bosnia, Haiti, India, and our inner cities. Because there is so much suffering about which we can do little, we often close out the images, harden our hearts, and attend to the trials and delights of our own immediate lives. We forget that we can attend to the struggles of the world through prayer.

We can make events in the world part of our intercessory prayer life in the same way that we include individuals: name the situation or the location prayerfully, imagine the country or the people surrounded by light, or imagine our struggling world held lovingly in God's hands. For a longer prayer of intercession for the world, the following meditation or a similar one of your own design could be used.

Pick a situation in the world that is particularly troubling to you or touches your heart in a special way. You can choose the hungry of the world, people living with AIDS, people displaced by political upheaval, places touched by natural disaster. You can begin with a particular situation or a general category.

When you have decided on the focus of your prayer, settle yourself comfortably and take a few minutes to pay attention to your body . . . then your feelings . . . and finally your mind. Acknowledge how you are feeling and what you are thinking. Then turn your attention to God. Offer a brief prayer of invocation or thanksgiving or petition. Take a few deep breaths and quiet yourself. Then sit for a moment, experiencing the love that God brings into your heart.

In your mind's eye begin to visualize particular situations or locations that hold the struggle for which you have decided to pray. Open your heart to the images that begin to form, feeling the feelings that emerge. Feel God's presence with you and with the situations you are visualizing. Allow your imagination to take you around the world, to different continents, visualizing this form of struggle in as many ways as possible. Then bring your imagination back to your own country, acknowledging this suffering closer to home. Look to the major cities . . . the suburbs . . . the rural areas of our nation.

Imagine now this suffering in your own city or town. Imagine where this particular struggle is occurring in your churches, your schools, your neighborhood. Look closely and honestly to see if this struggle is occurring in your own family or within your own heart. Sit quietly in prayerful reflection with what you are discovering. If you find the growing awareness troubling, you might wish to invite Jesus to be with you as you pray.

After examining your own situation and the struggle as it manifests in areas close to home, move outward from your own location, seeing briefly again the situation throughout the world. In your imagination move far enough so that you can visualize the world as the astronauts see it from space.

As you gaze upon the world, allow a prayer to form in your heart. It might be silent. It might be composed of images. It might consist of words. Sit quietly, offering this prayer to God. Stay in prayer as long as you wish.

When your prayer is ended, take a few minutes to allow the images to fade. Slowly bring your attention back to your immediate location, noticing sounds around you. Feel your body moving, stretching. Open your eyes. Offer a closing prayer.

Jane E. Vennard in Praying for Friends and Enemies