Friday, June 29, 2012

Intercessory Prayer Isn't So Easy

Dear friends, today I am going to share with you one of my failures.  My friend Shelby has a close friend whose husband is undergoing a medical procedure which is very dangerous, but which may very well save his life.  She has asked everyone she knows to pray for him and his family every day for the next three weeks.  She has constructed a schedule so that if people commit to pray during specific fifteen-minute time periods, it would be possible for him to be prayed for constantly throughout the most dangerous part of his recovery.  Of course I signed up for a time slot in the evening, and when I saw that the schedule was not yet full, also took on a morning time slot.  Both are right next to my usual morning and evening prayer times, so should be a piece of cake.  So far, so good!

I started last night and quickly discovered that it is one thing to pray through a prayer list, asking God to help each one on the list, picturing each one in turn and praying for each one's needs, and for whatever else God knows they need; however, it is a different thing altogether to keep on praying for fifteen minutes straight for one person.  Take it from me, my friends, this is REALLY HARD!

So I started out with naming them, saying what the problem is, then suddenly thinking how do I know this is what God wants for them?  What if I am praying for the wrong thing?  This is where I had to start getting honest, because I could see that I did not have a prayer of making it through the whole fifteen minutes, let  alone helping anyone else.  I reminded God that he promised that the Holy Spirit would help us if we didn't know what to pray for or how to do it.  YOU SAID!  Well, now is the time, because I really need the help right now.  All right.  Jesus did say that we should pray in his name for people's healing, so I guess this isn't too presumptuous.  Okay, now the prayer is all about me instead of the people I'm supposed to be praying for.  Great!  How do I fix this?  I must be the worst pray-er in the world!  (I see that you have to keep talking out loud, or else you totally lose focus and forget to pray at all!)  OK, Lord, I'm just going to keep on talking, and hope that you can stick this out with me.  I'll just keep saying their names, and whatever else occurs to me, trusting that you get it, and will know what to do with this mess.  I did, in fact, make it through the whole fifteen minutes, using this "technique."

Next decision:  do I set my alarm to be sure I wake up in time for praying in the morning?  I probably need the sleep, if I sleep through.  Wait a minute.  This has all the earmarks of a temptation.  I said I would do this, so I will.  ("I will, with God's help" is maybe the most helpful phrase in the whole Book of Common Prayer.)  I set the alarm.  Sure enough, the alarm woke me from a deep sleep, though I usually wake up easily to the dawn chorus.  I'm groggy, I make coffee, I look at the clock -- fifteen minutes before starting time.  I check my email and see Rohr's meditation for today.  Yes, you guessed it!  Next time I checked the clock, I had to start the prayer with, "Oh, Dearest Heart, I am already two minutes late!"  I knew that the Holy Spirit had started on time and was waiting for me to join in.  That is a blessed relief, so I started with naming the people, and thanking God for his faithfulness in filling in for me until I got there.  Good thing Rohr said that God teaches us more in our failures than in our successes, because I think God will teach me to pray if I can just keep on spending fifteen minutes with him every morning and night working on this at the same time we are praying for the young man and his wife and family.  Oddly enough, at the end of the fifteen minutes this morning I knew I had been brought closer to God.  I guess it's like anyone you know -- if you work together on a difficult project, it brings you closer together.
If any of you dear readers have tips on how to do this, please please comment, as obviously I do not have a clue.  We Christians need the companionship and support of the Community of the Faithful to help us sustain our efforts along the way of our spiritual journey.


  1. I wouldn't worry too much about "praying for the wrong thing." Perhaps the very desire you hold in your heart for someone was placed there by God, and through that prayer he is coaxing you to enter into conversation with him. So what else occurs to you during the prayer? What is God's response? So often in the Gospels we see Jesus give answers that don't seem to match the questions he's asked, at least not at first. Anyway, the true meaning of prayer, at least in my feeble understanding, is to enter into that conversation so that our will might be more closely aligned with that of God. The more that happens, the more the words we offer are his and not ours at all. Fr. L+

  2. Carolyn you don't give yourself enough credit!!!! You are amazing. I am not great at praying. I've taught my kids that when they pray, just pray like they were talking to me or their dad. It's with that childlike faith that I now pray. I start my morning prayer with "Good morning Lord" just as I would say good morning to my dad. I just talk to him. Mostly I pray for his will be done and for him to let me know what I can/should be doing for the people I'm praying for. Of course , there's tons of prayers of thanksgiving sprinkled in the over all prayer as well. You could pray a prayer of thanksgiving for what your friend and her husband have shared together.... x many years of happy marriage, beautiful, healthy children, etc.

    Listen to that little voice in your head or your heart. You'll do he right thing!

    Love ya!

  3. Well, pioneer woman, dont tiptoe around the subject. Personally, it doesn't seem to the point to me to delicately suggest that God 'give someone strength to bear it' or 'support them' or whatever. In the case of illness, especially potentially fatal illness, I just go for it. I say, I shout, I scream, "CURE THEM!!!!" After all, it is what I, and presumably they, really want.

    Sure, it is important to align one's will with God's (I agree with you, Fr. L, and I know who you are, too! and I also agree that there very probably is no 'wrong' way to pray -- how could there be?) but as a doctor I never can believe that disease in any form is God's will for anyone. Isn't Jesus all about healing and wholeness?

    Nevertheless, a distinction should be made between a healing and a cure. A cure may not be possible, but a healing almost always is.

    So, to be specific, and how I get through my prayers (7x per day for me) for our friend is the following: I use a kind of Ignatian prayer exercise,picturing what I envision for the person for whom I am praying. In the case of our latest effort, the first step is the destruction of his cancerous bone marrow. I picture the chemotherapy swooshing down like so many 'scrubbing bubbles' and cleaning every nook and cranny of the center of every bone in his body, and there are more of THOSE than most people realize, although they are not all stem cell producers in one's later years.

    Did I say clean? I mean POLISH TO A HIGH LUSTRE, SPIT SHINE LIKE MILITARY BOOTS, COMPLETELY AND ABSOLUTELY SQUEAKY CLEAN. Clean as in operating-room clean, clean as in sterilized clean. Clean, clean, clean. Bubbles are followed by steam rinsing followed by white-gloved inspection teams (uniformed, of course) making minute inspections and correcting the slightest deficiency on the part of the cleaning crews. The enter the SWAT teams of HEAVILY ARMED GUARDS to stand watch to prevent reinfestation until the time comes for the transplant.

    I picture battalions marching in close-order drill, brass bands, and flags. And I picture all of this going on while our friend lies exhausted, pale, and ever more weakend while all of this is going on.

    NOW I have to picture other kinds of support that are going on -- support for his psyche and spirit.

    The emotional part is easy, he has his well-beloved wife by his side, and well as his sister and his children, and they are all mature, sensible, and non-hysterical people (I know them, you see.)

    Then the spiritual side, and whoopee!!!! WHAT A GROUP THAT IS IF YOU INCLUDE THE ENTIRE COMMUNION OF SAINTS past and present, the
    Triune Godhead, Saint Michael and All Angels, cherubim and seraphim, not to mention good old Doctor Luke, my favorite gospelist (of course), and perhaps an appeal or two to someone like Saint Jude for help.

    I picture conferences and confabulations and I can see rank upon rank of kneeling figures in the courts of heaven, all praying with me for our friend.

    Sometimes, of course, human efforts and human medicine are not enough, and it is at that time, and at that time only, that I stop praying for a cure and start praying for healing, another subject altogether.

    If you can get all of this done in less than 15 minutes, well, good for you. (I usually find myself in conversation with this and that person -- usually Luke -- discussing the case, and agreeing together that this can be handled and the time does fly, but then I love Ignatian prayer.)

    Fr. L, your reply is superb. Mine is just from prairiewoman/medicinewomanwichita.

  4. My dear medicine woman, you may be sure that I am not so much a spiritual wimp as I am a novice, which is why I am asking advice. For example, how on earth would I know what "Ignatian" prayer is or how to do it if you don't tell me? And I did not mince around, delicately suggesting anything. That's why I scared myself. I was immediately aware that if I told the truth, I would be bossing God around, and was not sure I was supposed to do that. I just got through reading a treatise on the unforgivable nature of "presumptive sins." I took comfort in the fact that apparently Jesus did just that, and told his disciples to do it, too, but it doesn't feel to me like I'm anywhere in that league. I can only state the problem, like Mary saying there is no wine, and trust that Jesus, who is the one who went around healing people and making wine out of water, will know what to do. It is he who commands the ranks and armies of the Holy Angels, so if I can align my prayer with God's will, I will just be joining my little voice with all the saints, prophets, holy men and women, and spiritual powers who praise his Holy Name and work with God toward the fulfillment of his Kingdom. You are so right -- once I got started, even in my clumsy way, the fifteen minutes flew by!

    I am overjoyed that we all can discuss the things that truly matter, with honesty and energy. I see that there are many styles of prayer, which is a good thing, because it means we will be approaching our prayers for both curing and healing from many many different angles. I also love Michelle's approach. Her response reminds me that Jesus said to call God "Daddy" when he taught us the Lord's prayer. And that I don't have to understand anything, I can just go to our heavenly Father with trust. And Fr. L, who knows me well, knows how to encourage and strengthen without intruding himself into my learning to pray. Your approach, dear Medicine Woman is absolutely invigorating, and I thank you with all my heart. I hope others who read this also respond and will share hows they pray prayers of intercession.

  5. Well, I'm trying to see if clicking here will work.

    I wouldn't say any discipline is easy....and I would say I am very slothful. However, it helps to include with prayer lot's of listening (ie:silence, meditative about what one is praying for) and it helps to fill the emptiness with scripture about healing....the duty of Christians to pray intercessorily (James 5:13-15); God's promises to heal (Jer 30:17; Isa 57:19; Ps 103:1-5; 68:19-20; 69:33; Ez 34:15-16and 73:13; Matt 18:19-20) Prayer need not be chatty....

    It says to "select a profile" and I have no clue what that means, so I guess I am anoynymous (but I am one of the Musketeers, the slothful one)....

  6. Prayer "Is". For God time does not exist. Time is only for us. There are many people who have rituals that involve saying three of this, ten of that, etc. If you get caught up in the structure, you'll miss the heart of the matter. There was a Saint who talked about saying the Our Father. Often she would never finish it. Rather she would spend hours just meditating on different parts. It's not about the quantity of time one spends. A Bishop once talked about how he would spend one hour a day in Church with our Lord and urged others to do the same. There were times he said that he would use the time to sleep. Once again if the structure and the completion of the outline is paramount you'll miss what prayer is all about.

  7. Next time I pray myself into a corner, I will re-read all the things you all have said. Being with God in a timeless and listening way, trusting, not worrying about it or being afraid, accepting whatever happens, telling the truth, stating the problem, recalling all the wonder and power of all the ranks and creatures in God's creation, being with Christ, the healer, the sufferer, the servant, sensing the Holy Spirit at work, being among a community of men and women dedicated to serving our Lord, and rejoicing in all the sparkling and beautiful refractions of God's light, somehow a continuation or incarnation of the Blessed Trinity -- all these things and more you have written. God be praised!

  8. Carolyn, you have been provided a number of ways to approach the prayer thing from a spiritual and perhaps philosophical point of view. The closest I come to having to fill time with prayer is a half hour after the Maundy Thursday service when we as a church keep vigil in turns all night. I most frequently read psalms to myself. But there are many wonderful prayers sprinkled throughout the prayer book plus many beautiful collects. I think they could be adapted to suit your needs. Some of the prayers from Compline are among my most favorite, esp. the one that starts "Keep watch, dear Lord...." If you find your mind wandering during a prayer session you might recite the Jesus prayer. I would see nothing wrong with having a pad of paper on which to doodle. Nor would I see anything wrong with listening to music (e.g., Gregorian chanting or Mozart) during the times you are praying. Finally, some of the writings of the Philokalia I have found useful for suggestions in how to pray. Dave Z. (This entry is somewhat late so use or edit as you see fit)