How to Pray for Another

Praying for another person is a way of loving them. It holds them in the flow of divine energy when they may have difficulty seeking it for themselves. When a community prays for someone, it lends the strength of its collective faith at a time when an individual may grow weary.

Which all sounds good. But really, how do we do that?

If I want to pray for you, it helps to begin by trying to understand what you’re going through. It’s good to acknowledge how things really are for you, at least the best I can. Prayer is mysterious and powerful, but it is not magic. It cannot negate a crisis or remove the traces of a traumatic event. The struggle to create a life in the midst of challenges to body, mind, and spirit is real and ongoing, and that is where we have to start.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what another needs most. In some cases my own emotion surrounding their situation makes a specific prayer impossible to express. Other times I simply don’t know what is troubling them. One way to pray when words fail is to see the one for whom we’re praying held in a beautiful white light.

I envision the light enfolding and permeating their being, healing their wounds, buffering them from external shocks, and strengthening their ability to see beauty and meaning in their life. I imagine the easing of body, mind, and spirit through the healing warmth of the light. I think of the light as always there, the divine support given by grace to each of us.

This way of praying works whether we know someone well or only by sight. It has meaning whether we feel closeness or tension with the person we’re praying for. It is a prayer we can use to support our leaders and bolster the everyday people in our lives.

If you’re interested in the subject of praying for others, you might want to read the previous post:

What it Means to Say “You’re in My Prayers”

How do you go about praying for others?

What it Means to Say “You’re in My Prayers”

Sometimes life comes at a person I care about in ways that challenge anyone’s ability to cope. When my actions, or theirs, have no power to change those circumstances, all I can offer is presence and concern. And prayer.

But when I tell someone, “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” or “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” what does that really mean? And what does that person want when they ask me to remember them in my prayers?

We all have different hopes and expectations, as we have differing experiences of prayer. But I see at least seven things conveyed when I offer to pray for you:

1)      It acknowledges the crisis and pain in your life

2)      It says that I am concerned about you, I am with you in your suffering, and I won’t forget about you when we part

3)      It recognizes that our lives are subject to things we cannot control, and that we share that position of vulnerability

4)      It reminds us both that we have access to spiritual strength that helps see us through the difficulties that life brings

5)      It holds faith in the possibility of strength and healing, in some form, through means we cannot predict or understand

6)      It points to an interconnected web of life strong enough to contain suffering and still hold beauty, meaning, and love

7)      It promises that you are not alone

A promise to pray is itself a kind of prayer, but I don’t think the promise is fulfilled simply in making it. In my next post, I’ll talk about how we might pray for someone.

You might also be interested in a more recent post, “Positive Energy and Prayer.”

Reason for Hope

I’ve been reading Pierre Teilhard de Chardin over the past few weeks, absorbing The Divine Milieu a little at a time. It’s a wise and deeply hopeful book, relevant to the perennial issues and questions that arise in everyday life.

One of those issues is the pain that is part of human experience, as in the pictures we see in the news. Teilhard ascribes suffering not to the will of God, but to the fact that creation is unfinished, still moving toward the full expression of abundant life made possible in God. Humanity may be subject to heartbreak, but we are part of a creation in which God works even through tragedy towards strength and healing. The world in its current state cannot escape “shocks and diminishments,” but God works through them to bring about something better. In Teilhard’s hope-filled worldview, “Not everything is immediately good to those who seek God; but everything is capable of becoming good.”

Teilhard’s deep faith in God’s intention for creation means that suffering is never the last word, and that darkness and confusion will be transcended. Life may sometimes be difficult but it is not meaningless. Our individual experience is part of a larger framework, which helps us resist the darkness and isolation that invites despair.

When I see the world’s compassionate response to disaster, it appears Teilhard is right. When someone says that losing a job eventually led them to more meaningful and satisfying work, it supports what Teilhard is saying. For other hurts there are no pat answers. Sometimes we cannot see the pattern in which pain and loss are a part.

But I want to believe with Teilhard that the aspects of life that seem to yield only meaningless suffering will be places touched by the powerful life force that is God. Believing that the spirit of God within humanity is always working towards a good creation, even through darkness and pain, is a reason to keep going. It’s a reason to know that our lives matter. It’s a reason to hope, and that makes all the difference.

What gives you reason to hope?

In the Beginning is the Breath

The search for meaning begins exactly where we are. If we want to seek connection with ourselves, with others, and with the divine, there’s nowhere else to work from. We don’t have to cross the distance between where we are and where we want to be in order to begin our journey. It starts from here.

It’s easy for me to wander off, feeling overwhelmed at all I don’t know and all I haven’t done. It’s easy to get stuck thinking there must be catching up to do before I can start. But on a good day, I can remember that I already have what’s most essential.

“For I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” and something within me urges me always toward wholeness. I believe it’s a spark of the divine that exists in everyone. My task is to wake up to that life force and pay attention to what’s happening now, without being distracted by what I have or haven’t done in the past or what I might do in the future.

Ok. Sure. But how?

The best way I know to begin being present to what is unfolding in my life, is through the breath. Our breathing is another way we are wonderfully made. Without a thought we bring into our bodies the air that sustains life, and exhale what we do not need to make room for the next breath. Our breath requires no attention, but it is with us every moment. When we are mindful of the breath, it gives us a way to find our balance, clear our minds, and pay attention. When we notice the act of breathing we have the chance to relax body and mind, and become grounded in the present moment.

Even the story of creation in Genesis begins with breath. The Hebrew word ruah, translated as the “spirit” of God moving across the waters at the beginning of creation can also be translated as “wind” or “breath.” Ruah is also the breath of life breathed into humanity by God. Creation begins with ruah; life begins with ruah. It seems fitting that our journey to God would begin with the breath, as well.

Our breath is always available as a starting place, which is good, as starting is something we must do over and over again. No matter how many mornings we wake up, we have to start each day anew. It’s the same with our practice and prayers. Every day we begin again. It helps to have a routine for beginning, and a focus on the breath is elegant in its simplicity. Our breath is where we are. It’s a start.

What helps you to begin again?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

Listening to a stirring speech from Rev. Tanya Tyler at the Disciples for the Dream service last night, I thought of how the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King is often referred to as Dr. King, but rarely, if ever, Rev. King.  As a culture, it appears that we respect the academic accomplishment more than the mantle of ordination. Yet it was his faith and his relationship with the church that both fueled and sustained his work, providing a source of community and network of support.

Martin Luther King embodied the ideal of an intellectual, spiritual, and activist life coming together in a single, extraordinary individual. Not every person can bring the strength in each of these three areas that he did. But we can join with others to form the beloved community, where together we value clear thinking, deep connection, and heartfelt service. In a community where myriad gifts can find expression, we gain strength from each other. Strength enough to change the world.

In the Wake of a Natural Disaster

The photos and reports from Haiti show a scale of suffering that is painful merely to absorb, much less live through. What can we do? Send money. Pray. Help weave a web of compassion to hold the people there.

I’m supporting the efforts to help through donations to Week of Compassion and Church World Service, who are experienced and effective agents for responding to disasters around the world. Even a dollar helps. For a more tangible means of giving, Church World Service is also in need of hygiene and baby supply kits.

What else can we do?

Perhaps, as in the wake of any disaster, we can practice seeing our own lives more clearly.

  • I’m reminded that my life rests on the relative luxury of counting on water, food, and shelter
  • I’m thankful for the health and safety of my loved ones
  • I’m mindful that it’s having my basic needs met that allows me the privilege of working towards a fuller and more meaningful life
  • I’m grateful for the ability to share the journey of body and spirit with others, and to offer help
  • I’m appreciative of the organizations in place to deliver assistance to people in need

Life is fragile, and we are missing out if we don’t try to make it as rich and good as possible.

The outpouring of concern and support from around the world is a reminder of the human connection that binds us all together. My heart goes out to the people of Haiti, those who have lost loved ones, those who cannot feed and shelter those they love, those who are injured and suffering, those who need some reason to hope.

Sometimes it’s hard to see that we’re all in this together. Sometimes it’s easy.

What’s on your mind as the news reports continue?