Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Praying for Others

Years ago I was asked to do a series of presentations on the topic of "Spiritual Friendship" for a weeklong conference held by an Episcopal group of women, The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, whose mission is devotion to intercessory prayer.    http://www.adelynrood.org/companionship.php At the same time my mother had a recurrence of colon cancer, and I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. My surgery was scheduled for the week following the conference.  

Never have I felt so held in prayer. 

I knew the organizers of the conference were praying for me in the months previous to the conference as I prepared my presentations and then later as I drove from Ohio to Massachusetts to the retreat center. Before I knew when my surgery would be scheduled, I had told the organizing committee about the cancer complication, and  they prayed for my healing.  Towards the end of the conference I revealed during one of my presentations what I was facing once I returned home, and on that last day of the conference I was surrounded, lifted, embraced with prayer. 

The Practice of Intercessory Prayer
These women know how to do intercessory prayer, how to pray for others, but this is something we each can do. Quite simply, the practice of intercessory prayer is a way of loving others and responding to the needs of others through prayer. 

If you are part of a worshipping community, your ritual may include praying for those in the community with specific needs--those sick and in poor health, those grieving, or those experiencing other life challenges. Often names are read carefully and solemnly, but also there may be time during the service when those in attendance can name out loud or silently in their heart names of others known to be in need. 

Keeping a Prayer Journal or List
Years ago I volunteered to monitor requests for prayer in our congregation, alerting those who promised to honor those prayer requests.  Even though at times I had concerns about such personal and often intimate information being shared, I knew how much it had meant to me to know that many --and not just people I knew-- were praying for me and my family. At that time I kept a prayer list or prayer journal, noting names and any pertinent information, and my morning quiet time included intentional intercessory prayer. 

In more recent years I have focused more on centering prayer and meditation, a form of contemplative prayer in which one turns within and rests in God's presence. The ongoing practice of centering prayer allows you to connect with the inner peace of God and to experience renewal. This practice not only strengthens my awareness of God moving in my life, but also makes me more aware of the needs of others and how I can be present to them. My practice of intercessory prayer has been more random, more spontaneous, but lately the idea of keeping a prayer list or journal once again has been hovering in my heart. 

Awareness of Challenges
At a recent gathering with dear women friends from college days, a warm and loving time for us, I thought about how each of us are facing or have encountered challenges we could not have imagined when we donned our caps and gowns. Some of the challenges have been temporary, but no doubt will be replaced by others as time goes on. Some are ongoing with twists and turns, and some are new and yet too tender to expose. Some are as yet totally unknown. 

This is the way it is as we live in our aging. 

Almost daily, it seems I learn of a challenge someone in my life is facing, and I need to respond with more than "Oh no," and then a sympathetic email or note. Therefore, this morning I started a new prayer journal, for as Richard J. Foster http://richardjfoster.com says in Prayer, Finding The Heart's True Home, "We are responsible before God to pray for those God brings into our circle of nearness." 

I sat quietly this morning and one name after another came into my awareness. The list grew --the family whose father and husband died after suffering from a long illness; my father who has just lost a good friend; the friend who continues to fight the repercussions of cancer; a friend who yearns for a different life for her child….on and on. No doubt you carry such a list in your heart as well. 

I have no idea what would be the "right" or "best" outcome for each of these people. Nor do I need to know all the details.  Therefore, I simply speak their name, lift their name with tenderness and compassion. I don't pretend to think because of my prayer of intercession suffering will be magically dissolved, but I do know offering such a prayer makes us more human and reminds us we are all one. Through these brief moments of connection, we build our ability to be compassionate. "We grow in awareness of the need to support our prayer with action. Serious intercession leads inevitably to an increase in generosity and an acute awareness of injustice," says Margaret Guenther https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/teachers/teachers.php?id=346 in The Practice of Prayer. 

My Prayer
Not everyone on my list are people I know. As I sat in the silence, a face appeared to me--I don't remember her name. She attended the first session of the weekly study of the Gospel of Matthew, having driven a long way on a very cold night to be there. She seemed agitated and uncertain. At the break she shared her hopes of discovering a new way to relate to scripture, one that would counter her rigid religious background. She hasn't been back. I named her "Seeker," and lifted her in prayer. 

I know there are all kinds of prayers--prayers of praise and adoration, of thanksgiving, of confession, and prayers of petition, along with intercessory prayer--and I know they each have their purpose, but my prayers tend to be more of a jumble of this and that. I think that's ok, but right now I feel a call to set aside specific time to embrace others through prayer. 

Today you are on my list. I whispered "Clearing the Space Readers," both in gratitude for your attention to my words, but also knowing you each have at least one challenge in your life. May all be well. 

An Invitation
Tell me about your practice of prayer? What do you believe about prayer, and what has been your experience of prayer? Is intercessory prayer part of your prayer life and if so, how do you practice it? I would love to know. 

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