January 30, 2012

Prayer: A Spacious Place

The last few months my girlfriend has been dealing with nerve pain and I’ve been only intermittently employed. It’s been difficult for both of us, filled with uncertainty and frustration. There were sleepless nights and weeks during which we had no idea how to proceed. There were moments when we felt helpless and alone. Often, we felt the need to pray, though both of us are so full of doubt that it was difficult for us to do so. 

One day a friend of ours, a pastor, called and prayed for us over the phone. He prayed in Portuguese, which I don’t speak, but I could tell that the words were directed at both of us just as much as they were directed at God. My dad, who is an Episcopal priest, also called a few times and said prayers for us during this difficult time. He used to pray for me often as I was growing up. He’d place his hand on my forehead and pray, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I was an anxious child, and have grown up into a somewhat anxious adult, and those words still give me comfort.
Despite Jesus’ admonishments to pray and assurances that our prayers will be answered, I often doubt the efficacy of prayer, but at those moments I felt as if a little space were opening inside me, and light flooded in. We were not alone, and we never had been alone. 

I feel that way during the prayers at the Sunday evening services I attend. After the meal we hold hands and sing, then there is a period of silence during which we can offer up prayers aloud or silently. The space immediately becomes sacred, and everything else melts away. 

The other day, we went to church at Judson Memorial, which my girlfriend used to attend on a regular basis. After the service old friends of hers sat in a circle in the minister’s office and listened and offered their prayers and thoughts. It was comforting to be surrounded by people who love us, a reminder for me of the importance of communal prayer. 

There will always be members of our communities who are struggling, and often little that other community members can do except make some time to listen and sit together and pray for each other. It may seem small, but it’s essential. We gather and make a place for peace, where we can bear each other’s burdens in community and clear away the anxiety and pain for a few moments. As the psalmist says “We went through fire and water, yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.”