Several times a week, I am asked if I will pray for someone or for some particular situation.
Several times a week, I offer, in the course of conversation, that I will keep someone or something in my prayers.
So what, exactly, does that mean?
In the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, we have so many different ways that we pray:
- there are the formal prayers for a variety of “situations” within the Book of Common Prayer. These prayers are so carefully and exquisitely crafted that it is a pleasure to dip into the prayer book for a dose of beauty as we join with God in prayer (btw, did you know that 80% of the Book of Common Prayer comes straight out of the Bible?) Oftentimes, I will know exactly what prayer I want to offer from this collection, even as I am being asked to remember someone in prayer.
- there are the mechanics of the Daily Office and Holy Eucharist and other devotions that allow for an offering of intercessions within the structure of the liturgies- each Sunday as I visit a different church I am moved by the long list of names of those being remembered that day by the community in prayer. I keep a list in my prayer book on an index card that helps me remember, during the Daily office, of those in need of prayer. The index card list is a coping mechanism for my living and praying with a 6th decade memory.
- There is something called an “arrow prayer” in which I pull a prayer intention from my quiver and send it up to God without any long or formal process- I learned this method of prayer when I was a teenager and still use it throughout the day, each day.
- There is a soaking or bathing prayer in which I take my prayer list into an intentional time of meditation and intercession, offering to God the needs and concerns of those for whom I are praying. I do this every morning as I begin my day. It is a gently lifting up of people and situations without pleading, demands or bargaining- just a careful and loving raising to God the tender lives of those in need. I have a candle that I light each morning as a way to begin this gentle ritual.
- There is a “carrying” prayer in which I carry the image, name, situation around with me all day and use quiet moments, the pauses in my day, to remember the person with loving kindness and invite God to bring healing and wholeness. And sometimes, I will set my phone timer to chime each hour to remember someone, or set a specific time on my clock- a surgery time, beginning of an exam, etc- to remind me of the beginning of a significant event that I’ve promised to hold in prayer. One time, years ago, when a friend was working towards sobriety, I pledged to set my alarm every half hour, to pray with him through the course of the day that he would make it, sober, from one thirty-minute segment to the next.
- And there is the laying on of hands and anointing, a sacramental rite that uses a formal ritual and “outward sign” (laying of hands and oil) in an intimate, earthy way to connect the person’s prayer with God. The privilege of serving as the minister in this context is amazing. My former rector has great words of wisdom on this- when I was training with her I would often “ad lib” the prayer (I hadn’t memorized the one out of the prayer book, you see- I was lazy and bad at memorizing) and she did a whole teaching with me on the role of the minister in this sacrament, pointing out the vulnerability required for someone to come forward for this kind of prayer and our role as conduits of God’s healing power; the “formula” allowed for some distance between the vulnerable person and us, the ministers… and put God in the middle. I’ve thought about that many times. Laying on of hands and anointing is a gift of the Church and a very powerful prayer practice.
So, when someone asks you to pray for them, or when you make that sacred promise, what do you do?
The gift of prayer creates a union between us, the person for whom we pray, and our loving God. It is holy and real and transformative. It is the language of caritas– loving kindness. Speak some today.