Good morning.

Since receiving the invitation to this morning’s National Day of Prayer, I have been in a state of great anticipation and I thank our religious leaders for this most opportune initiative. Allow me please to give some context to my reaction.  

For over 50 years, my mother’s sister belonged to the Community of the Sisters of the Love of God in Oxford, England. It is a contemplative Order, which separates itself from the affairs of the outside world with some of the nuns, my aunt among them, choosing to be hermits. The expectation of the Order is, that once one enters, one leaves only on death.

Aunt Kathleen’s mission at the Convent was to hold the world before God by praying almost continuously. In my younger days, I would often ask, ‘buh how much ting so she have to pray for that she can’t even self take a holiday?’ Note however, that when I was faced with any difficulty, my battle cry was, “my aunt praying for me day and night, nothing could happen to me.”  

Communication with the members of the Order was restricted. The usual method was that my aunt would write a monthly letter to my mother on the flimsy blue airmail forms that some of you might be old enough to remember. If we needed, and it had to be absolutely necessary to contact Aunt Kathleen, we would have to ring ahead to get permission from the Abbot and have an appointment made for the follow up call.

Imagine then my surprise when on July 27th 1990, around 10 p.m. our time, the phone rang and it was my aunt at the other end. She was calling to find out exactly what was happening in Trinidad and Tobago and to ascertain that the members of the family were alright. I asked her how she knew about our situation and how she managed to get permission to call us. She explained that the Convent had received many requests for the Order to pray for Trinidad and Tobago which was experiencing a coup and she had been granted a dispensation to ring.

That my aunt for the first time in many years initiated such a call, reinforced to me the gravity of what was happening to us in Trinidad and Tobago. Now, we gather here to continue that vigil that began 30 years ago, since it is quite obvious that the wounds have not been healed, some of them have not even grown a scab. Our democracy still feels vulnerable; many traumatised victims have not returned to their former selves, and the ripple effects of those five awful days keep rearing their ugly heads.

When my aunt died in 2016, and our family gathered in Oxford, one of my cousins jokingly said, “Well Paula, I nominate you to take over the praying.” A steups, long and loud, was my immediate reaction but I have since found myself, of course without the intensity or dedication of my aunt, praying continually for our country.

Thus my excitement. I relish the idea of being part of a large community of prayer warriors simultaneously calling on God who is near to all who call on him in truth.

Today’s National Day of Prayer is just one of the many points along the road at which fervent intercession is necessary in our nation’s affairs. We gather to pray for healing and understanding; and to thank God for democracy and the privilege to cast our ballot freely. We give thanks that those who sought to rob us of this opportunity were ultimately unsuccessful.

The thing about prayer is that once you start on any occasion you find more and more things to pray about.

And there is much to pray about in this our native land; in fact I think we may need our own dedicated silent Order. On the list are: security—personal, job and border; racism, particularly evident in this ‘silly’ season; injustice in its many forms; the economy; our young people and more recently, COVID-19.

People of faith know that prayer is given its power through believing. Christians are told in James’s epistle that faith without works is dead, and that teaching is not limited to Christians. In the Quran it is written “Those who believe and do good works, their Lord guides them by their faith. Rivers will flow beneath them in the Gardens of Delight.” (Quran 10:9)”

I would not be surprised if this principle runs through many religions.

However, the hope for a better Trinidad and Tobago is not exclusive to people of faith. Many of those who don’t pray and don’t believe in the power of prayer also desire a brighter future. I recently saw a quotation ascribed to an anonymous six-year-old, which to my mind, puts the faith and works concept in secular terms. It says “You can make a wish but then you have to do the wish; it just doesn’t happen”.

Beyond our hopes, prayers, plans and visions for our nation, we must act on our intention. Without deliberate effort on our part, what we pray for or wish for will not materialise. We have to make our respective tangible contributions. In the words of American author Ralph Nader, “there can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship”.

So even as we pray for our democracy, we need to do our part in whatever our sphere of influence to stand against prejudice, injustice and wrongdoing and to reject outright selfish individualism and the narrative of those intent on sowing discord and division.

In the august company of this many clerics, I make bold to refer to a passage of scripture, only because I think it’s on point for this occasion.

It is from Isaiah 58, beginning at verse 9

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

I think this passage neatly sums up why we are here and the outcomes we all hope for.

I trust that all present and those joining us remotely are committed to continue our prayers beyond today’s gathering. And as I conclude, I think there can be no more appropriate occasion on which to end with “May God Bless Our Nation”.