Monday, April 19, 2010


The last part of the "journey" is the bead for Loving prayer.  This is more traditionally called "petitionary prayer" or "intercessionary prayer" -- it's the prayer we pray for other people.  As I put it originally in Simply Pray (p. 35):  "Prayer practice that focuses only on the self is ultimately hollow, as is a life that is too self-centered.  At some point, the quest for personal peace enlarges into a concern for peace in the world; the search for self satisfaction broadens to include a desire that the needs of others be satisfied." 

This is my answer when I hear the critique that spending time on things like personal spiritual practices is self-indulgent when there are so many real concerns that need tending too:  if one engages deeply with a personal spiritual practice it always leads to concern for the other.  This is, in fact, one of the things one "hears" while listening, that we are part of something larger than ourselves, interconnected with all that is.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said that we are, "part and parcel of life."  The Ven. Tich Nhat Hanh says, "we inter-are."

I have two ways that I generally engage the Loving prayer bead.  I'm sure that there are others.  In the first I work my way through a litany -- starting with my immediate family, going on through every member of my extended family, I call each person to mind.  If I know of something in particular they are wrestling with at the moment I think about that, otherwise I just wish them the best.  Then I think about my friends, the people I work with, the people in the congregations I've served, people in the news, world leaders -- sending "positive energy" to them, each and all.  I always make sure to include myself on this list.  Remember, in the Christian tradition it is said that we should love others as we love ourselves.  People often seem to forget that part.

The second way I work this bead is to simply try to relax -- usually fairly easy to do after just praying the Listening bead -- and see who floats into my head.  I stay with them for a while, see if any particular issue or concern comes to mind for me to pray about for them, and then I move on to whomever comes next.  I continue on this way until no one else seems to be emerging, and then I pray for my family and for myself.

Just what do I think I'm doing during this time?  In the first installment of this series I noted that a friend had asked why I prayed if I didn't believe in a God who would come swooping in to magically save me.  This was the kind of prayer he had in mind -- "Oh please, God, find Timmy Robinson's puppy!"  (This is a reference to a Mr. episode about prayer.  Very funny stuff.)

I have to say that I don't believe in an "activist God" who comes in and makes this person's cancer go into remission and that person's not because of the quality of their respective prayer lives.  I find that offensive.  Yet I do know that there have been a number of studies that show some sort of efficacy to prayer -- that people who are prayed for often have better outcomes, whether they knew they were being prayed for or not.  And there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that the person who is doing the praying benefits tremendously -- physiological and psychological benefits from the prayer itself, and benefits from spending time in compassionate contemplation of the needs and concerns of others.

And even though as I've stated before I don't believe in "God" as a person in any way we normally understand the term, yet through my own lived prayer experiences I have definitely felt myself to be engaged in something relational.  It is extremely difficult to put it into words, as so many of the words I would use have been corrupted by misuse and misunderstanding through the millenia, yet all I can say is that I truly do not experience myself as praying alone.  And so I cannot tell you what happens after I pray the Loving prayer, but I know that on most days I feel heard.

In Gassho,

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