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Calling for some divine intervention

My 12-year-old son and I say prayers every evening. We remember pets, the quick and the dead, and family members with whom we are constantly squabbling, and sometimes we pray for favored third parties. On the evening of the fifth game of the American League Championship Series, I suggested that we remember the Red Sox in our prayers.

"They are working very hard, and they really have an uphill climb ahead of them," I may have said. So we asked God to look out for them, and She did. And the next night. And the next night. And then Doubt set in: Were we trespassing unnecessarily on Her time? Is it appropriate to pray for a World Series victory?

What Christians call intercessory prayer -- asking God to intercede on our behalf -- is a hot topic these days. The New York Times reported this month that at least 10 studies are underway at places such as Harvard, Duke, and the University of Wisconsin to determine whether prayer by third parties can alleviate the suffering of the sick. The federal government has spent $2.3 million on prayer research over the past four years, none of it related to baseball, as far as I can tell.

Intercessory prayer is also big on the Internet. Here is a typical request posted on, which asks visitors to "Pray for President Bush": "I pray Stafford breaks up with McConnaught. She has always scoffed at the idea of someone wanting to date me ever [since] she found out and started being vindictive about it very loudly. I pray her lesbian relationship does not last either."

Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you." (Luke 11:9) Can we humbly ask for, say, victory in six? You bet! say my brother Episcopalians, God's not-so-frozen people where cheering on the Olde Towne Team is concerned. Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield, the seat of the bishop of Western Massachusetts, has been festooned with a "Pray Here for the Red Sox" banner for the past two weeks. Dean Jim Munroe says he isn't sure the banner has attracted many converts, "but I have received many appreciative comments."

Thomas Shaw, the bishop of Eastern Massachusetts, says it is perfectly appropriate to pray for the Carmine Hose. "I think God loves for us to play and have fun, and that's essentially what the Red Sox are about," he says. "God doesn't want to know only about the difficult things in our lives. If what you want is somebody's else's wife, then you pray for that." (!) He adds: "When we're honest about what we want, then God will take us to a deeper level and show us where our real desire is."

Is he praying for the Sox himself? "I want the Red Sox to win because I know it will make Episcopalians, and my brothers in the monastery, very happy." (Shaw is a member of a monastic order, the Society of St. John the Evangelist.) "And of course I'm praying for people's safety."

Across the aisle, as it were, Boston College's vice president, father William Neenan, S.J., waxes less sanguine about praying for a Sox victory. (Although, when reached in a Chicago hotel room last week, he joked that he was "on assignment, praying that we beat Notre Dame." Mission accomplished!)

"I used to bless myself before attempting free throws in elementary school, and it never seemed to have any effect one way or the other," Neenan relates. "I'm a pragmatist." Alluding to Matthew 10:29, Neenan notes that God may be quicker to care for the sparrows that fall out of the air than for those flying high and dry. "Perhaps God will send us a loss to sustain us," Neenan opines. "That's an occasion for praying."

Not that you asked, but my son and I have stopped praying for the Red Sox. From here on in, they are on their own, and we expect them to do just fine.

It's the ultimate Red Sox accessory: a navy blue baseball cap with the words "Red Socks" written in Yiddish -- "the language of pain," a friend notes -- on the front. Sol Kluger of Aberdeen, N.J., has been quietly selling them at three outlets: Brookline's Israel Book Shop, Newton's New England Mobile Book Fair, and the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. I've got mine. Get yours.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is

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