River Jordan (and yes that is her real name) is the author of several books of fiction. Her latest book Praying for Strangers is a departure for her. It takes her into the world of non-fiction and it involves exposing her own life to observation and discovery. This is not an easy thing to do for any author and because Jordan's book is so personal it makes the creation of it all the harder.
In 2008 Jordan's two sons were both facing deployment. One was headed to Iraq and the other to Afghanistan. The thought of both sons being in harm's way was almost more than she could abide. She knew she would spend the time they were gone praying for their safe return.
At the same time as the year neared its end she began to consider her resolutions for the next year, 2009. It was laid on her heart she should pray for a different stranger every day. That was easy enough. She could pick a stranger every day and then quietly pray for him or her. But that was not enough according to the voice inside her head. She must also tell the person, the stranger, that she was going to be praying for him/her and ask if they had any specific prayer requests.
Thus began a year long prayer vigil. During this time Jordan approached strangers in shops, in restaurants, in stores, and on the streets. She offered her prayers and in most of the cases she was welcomed. She learned of a variety of problems facing these individuals and she prayed fervently that the "stranger" would be blessed.
The problem Jordan faced when she began to write down the story of this year is that the effect of her prayer campaign was greater to her than the individual stories. The individuals' stories were important but in her book they became a backdrop for the spiritual change she saw in herself. Now this is a valid perspective but it weakens the impact of the book.
Some readers might want to know more details about the people she encountered. A follow up on some of the more dire stories would have been appreciated. Instead the reader gets pages and pages of basically the same thing. We learn there is a need for prayer; that praying for others helps us all; and that the world would be a better place if more people prayed.
These lessons learned are repeated over and over again. This repetition dilutes the basic impact of Jordan's story and numbs the reader against the impact of her words. Probably the book could have been half as long as it is if the repeated phrases and thoughts had been removed. In this instance shorter would probably have been better.
This is not to say Jordan's book is without impact. It is. It is just that the insightful messages of the individuals are buried beneath the mantra of "Prayer is good."
Praying for Strangers is published by Berkley Books. It contains 336 pages and sells for $24.95.