Monday, 20 October 2008

On Praying for Other People

Last night I did something which I ought to do more often, yet do not: I prayed for other people.

Usually, I approach prayer almost formulaically: I offer repentence and ask for forgivenness, with some thought towards a particular transgression I committed that day, understood as a token of my transgressions as a whole; I offer thanks for at least two things for which I am grateful that I experienced that day; I ask to be an agent of God in the world; I ask for particular things I feel I need the following day, most often patience, strength, dedication, courage, and other forms of self-control. Sometimes I also ask for direction, if I feel particularly lost. Last night, though, I didn't do even one of those things.

Last night I prayed instead for individuals and groups, as they came to my mind. Surely I could have thought of others to pray for, but I just let the thoughts come up and I prayed as they came. I prayed for a recently evicted man I meant that night, who had been kicked out of his apartment for allowing a homeless man to take shelter there. I prayed for a girl who said she was trying to resolve thoughts about God. I prayed for someone else who I felt was uneducated about other religious traditions, a problem that I feel is rampant among the Christian community. I prayed for the students of the school I volunteer at, of another school in the city with the Read and Run program, and of my mother's school--and also for the teachers at these schools, whose views of life must be impacted by the financial or emotional poverty of some of their pupils. I prayed for others, too, who gave no particular indication that they needed prayer over the course of yesterday, but that occured to me could use it, even if they didn't ask for it or would be upset if they found out that I had been praying for them. (I here nod to Inara from Firefly--either episode two or the second part of the pilot episode.)

At the end of this prayer I was struck by the serenity in which I rested. Sure, I managed to get antsy and uncomfortable later in the night, obstructing my attempts to sleep, but immediately afterwards the sheer rightness of the experience, the spiritual fulfilment, was overwhelming--and I use this word denotatively. It occured to me that this is what I ought to be doing all the time. I need to integrate this into my nightly prayers. Praying for other people--authentically praying for them--is a necessary part of a Christian lifestyle. It is an act of charity, and a profounder one than the ease of giving it may suggest.

This indicates to me that this is a skill that I need to cultivate. This includes both nightly private prayers and praying aloud for others in those opportunities I have for doing so--not too infrequent, given my weekly participation in a few Christian communities. This involves being publically available for prayer requests, cultivating an image as someone who can provide this service--though not in a bureaucratic or commercial way, despite my word choice. I have occasionally heard members of my Christian communities use the word 'prayer-warrior'; I have always through that there was something both apt and perverse in that phrase. Whether I like the terminology or not, I must become one.

Inversely, I must also make available the opportunities for others to pray for me. If I find others-directed prayer to be liberating, then it seems to make sense that those I encounter might also find others-directed prayer to be liberating. Instead of being vague about my prayer needs, perhaps I ought to be more specific, ought to give someone a real sense of how they can pray for me. Of course, telling someone your prayer needs makes you very vulnerable, and I fear vulnerability almost as much as I fear disappointing people. However, this vulnerability is a fair sacrifice to make, I believe, for giving someone the opportunity to provide this form of charity for you. I can think of bigger sacrifices that have been made in Christian history.

Whether I will maintain these new initiatives is yet to be seen; I am not a very good Christian, to be honest, and often fail to deliver on both Christian-community-expected behaviour and, much more importantly, peronally or Biblically expected behaviour (though I'm not bad at hiding these failures from public sight). This is not to say I do not believe this discovery is true or that I will not continue to believe it is true. It is instead to say that I am as flawed as anyone else, and my revelations do not always impact behaviour, regardless of what Freud may think. Despite what happens, I felt that this experience, this new understanding, is valuable, and worth sharing through this medium, even if only a few people come upon it. Perhaps you already knew this; perhaps prayer is foreign to you, and the effects of it are not something you can yet relate to; perhaps you are new to the game and are exhilerated by some new territory that you could explore. I know that, despite having prayed since I've known how to speak, I am new to the game of prayer. Every time I am asked to pray in public I can feel my amateur status. Whatever your position, whatever my limitations, I hope that this one-sided discussion has in some way illuminated some part of your social or spiritual life.


In a radical framework shift, I want to encourage you to read my blog posts textually, literarily, formally, deconstructively, post-colonially, archetypically, new historically, anthropologically, marxistly, femininely, queer theoretically, heteroglossically. In many ways I have written my blogs with these criticisms in mind, choosing vocabulary specifically to allow you, as readers, to interpret, analyze, and even criticize in a scholarly fashion. This includes otherwise personal, even spiritual, passages such as this. Essentially, I am becoming familiar with the myriad of ways people tease meaning out of texts, and so I am attempting to frame and in some sense control the processes of that teasing, much as people make jokes at themselves to prevent others from teasing them. As a writer, I cannot predict how you will recover that meaning, but I can predict how might, and work with (against?) that.

As anyone who knows me will attest, I think too much about everything, including myself. I hope that, if nothing else, this makes for interesting reading.


skatej said...

Perhaps a better word than prayer warrior is intercessor.
I was involved in intercessor training a few years ago but it has always struck me as odd that this woman was telling me that there was a better way, a more effective way, to pray for people. I should think that an all-knowing God would know why, for whom, and about what we pray. Her formula was a bit strange for me but it worked for her.
Honestly, I think we're in trouble if we start referring to ourselves as "good Christians". That leads to comparison and judgement (sound like the Pharisees?).
Keep your chin up!

Jon Wong said...

I think it is good that you pray for others. If I were the praying type, I would pray for others as well.

The English Clergyman said...

Isn't that odd; I don't think I've ever known what an intercessor was before. I can't even claim to know that I've heard the term until know.

Oh, aye, I'd be worried if someone called themselves a 'good Christian.' It would seem like a crucial point had been missed. However, my point was more to do with convention: I don't always do those 'Christian' things that people do or say when around other Christians. Like offering to pray for someone, or quoting Scripture, or listening to Christian rock, or dropping 'God bless you' into regular speech--though I do use it as a closing to correspondence sometimes--or using the phrase 'Jesus is my homeboy.' I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this, just that I'm not 'good' at this identity that people call 'Christian.' It's more convention than substance that I'm refering to.

skatej said...

Ah, I understand now. Here in the Bible Belt there's a lot of listening to Christian rock and sporting bumper stickers and wearing semi-clever t-shirts. Our time and energy is best invested in other things. Like praying for others, or giving the proverbial cup of water in Christ's name.
I believe the term intercessor comes from one of Paul's letters that spoke of how Christ intercedes for us. I can't remember the name of the book we were supposed to read. All I remember was the frequency of the word "importunate" and that it was written in the late 1800s.

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