A group of Christian women from eight churches in Columbia County are inviting people of all faiths to St. Helens Friday to break bread and join with thousands around the world celebrating the power of prayer.
World Day of Prayer is celebrated each year on the first Friday in March. People in more than 170 countries and regions will participate, says organizer Jo Japs.
Japs, from St. Helens, believes all faiths can benefit from prayer. It's a way to work with God and each other to create a world in which each gender, race, culture and religion is honored, she says.
The classic praying pose, on bended knee with hands clasped, has nothing do with the efficacy of prayer, Japs says. In many religions, some form of prayer exists to put followers in touch with a higher being or purpose.
'We need to stretch our minds and invite our hearts to care about God's whole community,' Japs said. 'Prayer is the point at which God's intention for our lives breaks into consciousness as image or speech.'
Prayer isn't a mystical metaphysical experience for everyone, though. Christa Seyferth of Vernonia says she's more likely to pray during difficult times. She admits angrily questioning God's plan for her life through prayer. Losing her husband 14 years ago and losing her job last April were triggering events.
'I don't go to church or anything, but since I've lost my job, I find myself asking God how he could let these things happen to me,' Seyferth says. 'During hard times, people pray to God to ask for the things they need.'
But Japs says God's community includes sorrows and joys. To pray 'for' things is sort of missing the point. Often, the definition of prayer as one-way communication with God is too narrow. Any activity that nurtures your relationship with God is a form of prayer, she said.
'To me, prayer is faith at work,' Japs says.
Scappoose resident Ellen Ast agrees. While people tend to focus on problems, one of the best little prayers you can say is 'thank you.'
'We get wrapped up in our everyday problems, and forget to say 'thank you' for the beauty that is all around us - like the moon on a clear night, when it has a ring of light around it. Or a sunset.'
First suggested in 1887 by the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the observance of World Day of Prayer has spread to other denominations, all of which hold the same service.
Every year, the worship service focuses on a different country, and the women of that country pick a theme. The women of Malaysia have chosen the theme 'Let justice prevail' for 2012. Services begin at sunrise and follow the sun across the globe.
Japs, who spent more than two years in Malaysia with the Peace Corps in the early 1970s, said the 28 million people in the crowded multi-lingual and multicultural society use the greeting 'selamat datang' as a reminder that harmony and justice is rooted in peace and welcoming.
A World Day of Prayer service is scheduled for noon Friday at the First United Methodist Church, 560 Columbia Blvd., St. Helens. The church is handicapped-accessible. Lunch will be served, and sack lunches are available to those who have to go back to work.