Brief Reviews, VOLUME 4

Review: PRAYING FOR STRANGERS – River Jordan [Vol. 4, #12.5]

239641: Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit

A Review of

Praying for Strangers:
An Adventure of the Human Spirit

By River Jordan
Hardback: Penguin Putnam, 2011.

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Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon.

“What if it’s our last Christmas together? What if it’s the last time I see my sons alive? What if it’s the last time I see them together?” Novelist River Jordan marched through the holiday season in 2008 readying herself to send her two sons off to war, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. An inveterate New Year’s resolution-maker, she had decided to skip her usual self-improvement vows that year. She simply didn’t have the energy to learn something new or modify an old bad habit when facing one of the most difficult challenges a parent can face – twice.

And then an unbidden idea dropped into her spirit: Pray for a stranger every day. It was the last thing Jordan wanted to do. She writes, “I need prayer and a whole lot of it just to keep breathing and moving, to keep up with my life and take care of my people. I am not feeling like Mother Teresa, not too altruistic, and not too holy at all. I am tired, busy, and carrying a double portion of my own concerns.” But the idea wouldn’t let go of her, and the introverted writer finds herself first quietly praying for a person who catches her soul’s attention each day. Eventually, she begins “outing” herself to most of those she chooses to be her person of the day with a deep breath and the words, “I have this resolution…”

Praying For Strangers captures her experience in brief (4-6 page) chapters that offer honest, memorable vignettes of her experiences during the first year she began praying for strangers. (The resolution has since become a way of life for her.) The practice brought encouragement to many of the strangers that crossed her path, but, more profoundly, it brought a healthy external focus to her days at a time in her life when the temptation to turn inward with worry could have consumed her.

“(This) is the true measure that lets me know I’m not just forging some social experiment. Not just trying to break out of my mold of wasted resolutions that never make the grade. I fell I’ve tapped into something tangible and real, realizing there is a purpose larger than I am. Okay, then purposes are fulfilled. Today has a warm sense of humble satisfaction. My prayers are worth something to a stranger. And now that stranger is worth something to me.”

This is not a book for those looking for teaching (save by example) or a clear theological pronouncement about the nature of prayer. Jordan, an Episcopalian, is  somewhat muddy when she writes about the purpose for prayer. Without bringing some sort of faith background of your own to this material, Praying For Strangers comes across as a bit of a self-help manual.

But those criticisms are relatively minor in scope. The book offers readers a wonderfully written, shimmering, accessible and wholly honest account of a journey into intercessory prayer. It is a journey that more of us might be encouraged to take because River Jordan has been willing to show us how.


Michelle van Loon is a freelance writer who blogs at


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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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