I’ve been doing some thinking about personal prayer – praying for and with someone. (Long story coming up…)
Every year, I do “continuing education”. Sometimes its a course, sometimes a retreat, sometimes just getting through that stack of journals that seems to grow beside my desk. Geographic context for this story: a classroom at Ashland Theological Seminary, in Ashland, Ohio.
Some of you know that I my theological viewpoint is distinctly liberal on that wonderful “conservative…middle-of-the-road…liberal” scale. *chuckle* I grew up, and am a minister in, The United Church of Canada. In our congregations and pulpits we have people who’s worldview (and Godview) runs the entire gamut from hyper-conservative to hyper-liberal – and lots of other directions, too.
I didn’t realize what that meant to my prayer life until one fine morning at a seminary I’m doing some continuing education work at. Most of my classmates would consider themselves to be evangelical and – much – more theologically orthodox than I. (Which has been great! I’ve learned a whole new language to explore our relationship with God!)
We had shared a lot of our personal and ministry story through the week of classes. We had gotten to know about and care for eachother – especially when we disagreed. The class had just finished and, as I was packing my texts away, one of my table mates said, “Let’s pray for each other.” We all agreed.
In my mainstream, U.C.Can. mind, that meant that I would continue packing my bag, get into my car, and (probably while I was driving for the next eight hours) lift my colleagues in prayer.
However… this was not the understanding everyone else had in mind.
The group gathered around me, laid hands upon my shoulders and head, and began to offer their prayers to God… for me. For my life. For my ministry. For my pain.
There were a few people who wandered by the classroom and, when they realized that someone was being prayed for, they came in an joined in the prayer!
We prayed for just about everybody that morning.
I had never felt so cherished. Later, I realized that the only other times I had felt the presence of God so tangibly had been during Shannon and my wedding, and at my ordination.
When I came back to St. Marys, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the experience.
It changed how I ask people if we can pray together. It changed how I pray. It caused me to realize how important physical presence can be during times of prayer.
Since I’ve come back, I’ve invited groups of clergy who are getting to know each other to pray, out loud, for each other.
I led the elders of the congregation I serve, and the congregations Shannon serves, through the process of gathering in pairs, talking to each other about what is going on in their lives, and then having each pair join hand and pray (out loud or silently) for each other.
Each time I’ve expected negative feedback.
Each time I’ve found that people have seen each other in a new – and beautiful – way.
I’m still theologically liberal (and, often, downright weird). I probably will be for most of my life.
But I’m truly glad that my evangelical sisters and brothers taught me about this kind of prayer.
(Perhaps, later, I can tell you what it was like to introduce them to Lectio Divina.