IT WAS Owen Murphy who posed the question in a tweet. "You're in
my prayers" he could understand, but what does it mean when people
say, "You're in my thoughts?" Is this just a limp prayer-lite?
I was pondering this recently when Anna Wardley, a 37-year-old
from Hampshire, went for a swim. She was attempting to swim round
the Isle of Wight - 60 miles of water. "It's been nearly 30 years
since this challenge was successfully completed," she said; "so I'm
under no illusions."
And why would she be? Although she is an experienced
long-distance swimmer, in August she had to abandon her attempt to
swim around the Isle of Tiree, in the Inner Hebrides, when she
began hallucinating from the effects of cold water, which left her
unable to breathe properly.
Now, faced by the Isle of Wight challenge - a swim reckoned to
take about 30 hours - she asked for our thoughts. "There will be a
time when I'll be swimming against the tide through the night," she
said, "almost on the spot, for hours. However, just knowing people
are thinking of me and willing me on will definitely help when the
going gets tough."
It would be particularly tough, because, following the rules of
the British Long Distance Swimming Association, she would be
wearing only a standard swimming costume, goggles, and a swimming
cap. It was her against the elements; so no wonder she wanted our
thoughts. But do they mean anything?
For part of the time that Anna swam, I was doing a long run,
full of difficult hills. It was not comparable to the cold depths
around the Isle of Wight, but hard enough. And I noticed that when
I was really suffering, and wondering whether I could continue, I
was thinking of Anna, 80 miles to the south, but beneath the same
We were somehow in this together, and her example encouraged me.
But did Anna feel the benefit in the cold waters?
Card-sellers want us to think of people. As one says on its
website: "Think back to times in your life when you received an
email, or a note from someone, for no special reason other than
that they were thinking about you. It makes you feel good, brings a
smile to your face, and helps to make us realise that we are not
alone, that others do care."
Thought and prayer are related, but different. A thought is an
act of solidarity; prayer, a letting go. A thought is empathy, a
springboard for kind action; prayer is acceptance, an act of deep
Anna Wardley completed the swim in 26 hours and 33 minutes. But
I can't take all the credit.
Simon Parke is the author of Pippa's Progress: A
Pilgrim's Journey to Heaven (DLT, 2012).