This isn't exactly the first time I've written about prayer, but I don't think I've ever been praying for so many people at once, so the stakes seem higher. It's not that I feel any need to resolve the paradoxes of prayer (why should anyone's welfare depend on my diligence in prayer?--yet I'm convinced of the need to be diligent!), but more than ever I feel a need to hear what others do when they get to this point.
(Concerning how I remember the people on my list, I still use my old method of dividing them into little villages in my head.)
I remember when I first began to pray seriously for someone with cancer. It was Joe Taylor of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting who had cancer, and when I began praying for him, what I vividly remembered was visiting in his home in New Jersey, and hearing him praying for one of my children who, back home in Indiana, was ill with bronchitis. His love, simplicity, and directness reached deeply into me and modeled how I in turn wanted to pray for him. The hospitality of his home became part of the way I prayed for him--I imagined his home being a place of healing and blessing, as it had been for me and no doubt for hundreds of others, and I prayed that this same light and grace would surround him and heal his own body.
This was my daily prayer for months, until I heard that he died. Emotionally, I wasn't sure what to make of his death. Intellectually, I knew that we all come to our ends before our loved ones want us to, so that there's no contradiction between being prayed for and ultimately dying, but still....
Anyhow, that is the way I've continued to pray for people with cancer, including the people I currently pray for. Extending Douglas Steere's metaphor of "mutual irradiation," probably in a much less sophisticated way than he originally intended, I envision a radiation therapy of God's love. But an experience I had about fifteen years ago came back to me recently and affected my practice.
Here's what happened. First Friends Meeting, Richmond, Indiana, had Bob Carter as guest speaker that Sunday morning. During our time of prayer concerns, we heard that a former pastor in Indiana Yearly Meeting and a dear friend to many of us, was suddenly and seriously ill. Bob abandoned his sermon and suggested we go into prayer for her. I was asked to sit in front of the group in her place, as a sort of focus for our prayer. She later told us that the relief she experienced could be timed to that moment, although she was most of a continent away.
Since recently recalling this event, I've sometimes put my own body in place of the person whose healing I've been praying for, imagining the place in myself where that healing was needed. We have a friend with ALS, and as I've been praying for his nerve cells to resist deterioration, I've been praying for specific chains of nerve cells--flexing my left fingers, one finger per day, for example, and praying for the specific nerves that enable me to feel and flex those exact muscles, and by extension, praying for those same nerves in my friend. Day after day, I'm trying to hold on to that discipline of praying with love and focus. If you're smiling at my naivete, don't worry--I smile, too, but I still do it, and I'll do it tomorrow and every day forward until I have a very good reason not to. Laughing at my plodding literalness isn't a good enough reason to stop.
I know that I can't crowbar God into specific mechanical responses to prayer. Prayer isn't a divine remote control; it's an expression of relationship, a form of grateful, humble participation in God's economy. Yet, I agree with Douglas Steere, who remains one of my favorite writers on prayer--he says, "When I pray, coincidences happen."
Do they happen for you? How do you understand what happens when you pray?
That's it for now. Time for dinner and early bedtime; tomorrow we leave Granada at dawn to return to Madrid and to the Russian consulate.
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