Every prayer is sacred and powerful, regardless of language and religion. Prayer also comes in many forms. So I have come to believe.
When our younger child Jessie was diagnosed and living with cancer, we learned to appreciate and welcome every form of prayer, positive intention, affirmation, meditative reflection, mantra, chant, song, or any other form of energy ever offered to us. Don’t all faiths and practices, in the end, have the same intention, at least when it comes to sending out cries for peace, hope and healing into our universe? For the sake of one child, or a generation of children?
When we were in the hospital, we wanted and needed every vibe and Amen that came our way. We hung up a cross, Buddhist prayer flags and a hand-made Native American dream catcher. We made a bowl that accumulated — as gifts from practitioners of many healing methodologies or faiths – angels of all sizes and shapes, a Buddhist prayer wheel, stones incised with words like love and believe, prayer cards from saints and sacred sites, crystals with different healing capabilities or properties, necklaces or bracelets strung with symbolic beads and prayer boxes. We received a quilt, blankets and shawl all stitched with more prayers and wishes. We listened to music ranging from vacation bible school songs to sounds of the earth itself, plus hymns, chants and mantras.
We cherished all of them, because they came to us from many parts of the country and the world. Carried home from other people’s travels. Some hand made. All tenderly packaged and delivered, when we were isolated in one small room, unable to go further than oncology unit’s hall or the garden downstairs.
Of course, sometimes people would make observations, sometimes in the guise of a prayer, with the best of intentions or from inside their faith tradition, that we didn’t agree with. Sentiments such as “this happened for a reason,” or God “wants another angel in heaven” or “you’re only given what you can handle.” The Creator in whom I believe doesn’t dole out diseases as punishment, to balance the scales, or to fulfill a predestined script. I understand that other families with different backgrounds found these statements to be comforting and consoling, and I wouldn’t ever negate or argue with those perceptions, where they provide support. Yet if we couldn’t bear to be told such things, we were explicit about asking people not to make certain statements; we established boundaries, when we needed them, even though we wanted every good wish and prayer.
Personally, I cannot imagine a Creator who deliberately creates illness, famine, war, disease, hunger, poverty and other conditions that hurt us. In my estimation, we connect with the Sacred when we find comfort and resources to endure or overcome these situations. Even when people offer strength and help to each other, we act in sacred ways. Maybe we find relief through a song that inspires us or a shower of 10,000 paper cranes. Perhaps acting through a doctor’s quick insight and action or a nurse’s gentle teaching. Playfully lifting us up through a counselor’s silly games or a playmate’s challenge to a feisty competition. Or in the tasty delivery of a homemade meal or steaming beverage. In many small and big ways, the Creator’s presence comes to us as compassion and healing.
Empathy and mending, grace and tenacity, laughter and honesty: these still come to us, in other ways, though that chapter of our lives is over. If you ever listen to my daughter Sarah sing Hallelujah, you will know that prayer continues to be part of our lives.
Yes, I believe in all prayers.
In times of urgency, we ask for help or rescue.
- That’s often when we’re most likely to bother praying. We’re in need. In crisis. Seeking a miracle, even
- When our need is extreme, sometimes it makes sense to be specific, and ask for exactly what you need. During cancer treatment, we used to ask for Jessie’s healthy blood counts, protection from infection, remission, and stability. Yes, we also asked for broader blessings, but they could be interpreted many ways: hope, courage, fortitude, healing. These days, we ask for continued emotional connection and healing within our family, and for grace and growth during new adventures.
- You can imagine, even now, that I grapple with a gut-level reaction that specific prayers weren’t answered. I’m sure you have those feelings, too. Years ago, we requested Jessie’s survival. We have all had those moments, those specific requests we made, that didn’t turn out as we hoped. Over time, I have come to a reconciliation between what I asked for and what occurred. For instance, maybe the only possible resolution, the only form of peace and dignity that remained for my youngest child, was the one that came to her. Letting go and moving on to the next part of her journey, because it was … finally … time. And what kindness remained, in holding her here, in the conditions under which she lived?
When you pray as part of a regular routine …
- … such as at bedtime every day, prayers can be like an entry in a diary. Or a one-sided conversation. Gentle. Sometimes formulaic. Reciprocal, though the other party is silent, but listening in. “Guess what happened today? Did you hear? I’m thinking of these people … be with them. Know what I’m planning next? Be with me as I take this step.”
At times, we experience Book of Job moments.
- Like Job, I have cried out, “No! Why?!” Screams of rage or defiance, desolation or confusion. These primal screams are also forms of prayer. Communication with our Creator. Healthy ones, I think, because a real relationship can sustain moments of doubt and anger, fear and despair … these are how relationships grow. Even relationships with Yahweh.
- After Jessie passed, I thought nothing more, nothing worse, could happen to our family. Yet there have been additional times when my loved ones have been vulnerable, hurt or compromised. All over again!
- I have called out, at those times, demanding, “Couldn’t we just keep a loved one safe? Haven’t we been through enough?” No, it seems. We are all human and vulnerable, and life will continue, the world will keep spinning, and experiences will accumulate apace, not sparing us either the best or worst of existence, just because we feel time should stand still … give us a respite …. since we have endured so much already. Life isn’t like that. There’s not really a 10-minute intermission between acts. It just keeps going. Sigh.
Happily, we sometimes pray out of gratitude. Celebration. Hallelujah.
- We pause and reflect, acknowledge a special experience or blessing.
- Maybe we notice a silent, awesome, profound moment. We give thanks when we feel particularly moved or connected.
- Or we honor something special — extraordinary — such as a milestone. Graduation, anniversary, promotion, birthday, or other landmarks.
- Sometimes it comes in a moment of laughter and humor. When your perceptions shifts, and a situation strikes you as funny, and you regain balance and connection.
- It’s a healing practice, to remember to say thank you. To count blessings. To name our gifts and their Source. With praise. Exultation.
- Because the Creator is in these moments – the quiet-wow-introspective-soulful ones, and the wild-happy-loud-rowdy-dancing-singing-clapping-hoorah ones — as surely as in the darkest ones.
Sometimes, we’re taught to turn over our situation to the Creator’s consideration, and say, “Thy will be done.” That has always been a tough lesson for me.
Really? Relinquish control, or my idea of what the best outcome would be? As I’ve said before, and as Reverend Rebecca Pugh reminded us again on Sunday at church, sometimes the answer we receive to prayer isn’t the one we expected. It may surprise us. Alarm us. Challenge us. We may not even realize, until later, that we received an answer at all.
Of course, some folks don’t have a specific religious affiliation. And even if you believe in a divine force or Creator, you may not credit that Someone is listening or intervening on our behalf. That a divine Being is stirring up the pot of events in this world to change fate at the request — on behalf of — of fragile, finite human beings.
I have my own view, based on personal anecdotes and experiences, that causes me to believe that I am connected to a Creator who cares and actually interacts with us. But that’s me. I honor other viewpoints, too.
The cancer mom Jane Roper, who is new to this journey, is receiving many prayers, too. She is eloquent and honest, in this excerpt from her blog:
“… while I respect and appreciate the fact
that other people like to pray, I’m not really a pray-er myself.
Or maybe I am. I certainly engage in prayer-like activities sometimes.
I will silently ask for strength or courage or patience or peace,
either for myself or for others. Last weekend when we found out Clio was sick,
I did a whole lot of desperate, tearful praying
that she’d be OK, and that we wouldn’t lose her.
But I’m not entirely sure who I’m addressing in these prayers.
I don’t believe in “God” in the classic, personified sense
so much as I believe in a sort of force / energy that connects us all,
and is maybe somehow responsible for the incredible
and beautiful creation that is our world (dude).
… But I do believe that people’s
thoughts / prayers / vibes / whatever
can have a positive effect on how
we handle adversity and experience joy.
I mean, I think I do. I’m not sure.
… So. Is it weird that I like other people’s prayers
even though I’m skeptical of my own?”
As I have said before, I find comfort and personal growth in the habit of prayer. Yet I’m not rigorous about the form that prayer takes for me. I grab hold of opportunities as they present themselves. There’s Sunday prayer in church as a community. There’s meditation in my yoga class in the morning. There’s picking herbs at Appleton. Sipping a hot drink. Paddling in a kayak. Listening to my daughter. Touching my husband. Walking through sunlight and shadow. Playing with a dog. Writing in a journal. Serving others. Singing. Sitting still, noticing the world.
Prayer can be individual or communal. Silent or aloud. Action or words. Directed toward the deity of a specific faith, or simply to the sacred universe. And throughout our lives, we will learn new ways to pray.
Prayer is a tool. A practice. An opportunity. However and whenever you do it, it’s a chance to connect and communicate with something bigger than yourself.
Every syllable, every thought, every vision, every hope, every wish, every intention … it all has potency. And when it is directed toward goodness and healing, wellbeing and peacemaking, stability and humor … when it is aimed at building connections … then such prayers, regardless of origin, must be working for the same cause. So I hope. So I believe.