So, I noted in my last post that I’ve been under a black cloud the last few days. It’s been a rough patch here, and, as if the death of a friend/mentor/church leader and my father’s illness weren’t enough, I had an old wound rend open without notice. You know, when you are vulnerable anyway and then a past grief finds its way into your heart all over again? I think my grief immunities are super, super low right now.
And then, this morning, as I worked at home, the phone rang. It was my neighbor, wanting to invite me to an event. In declining the invitation, I spilled it all out all over the place on her. Here’s where I am, here’s what hurts, here’s what happened all those years ago, blah, blah, blah. We shared similar tales of similar woes, and then she felt moved to say “Can I pray for you?”
“Of course,” I said, with a large sigh. I thought we would then hang up and she would go pray elsewhere and I would just feel the energy of her prayers waft over me, but instead she started right in.
“Oh Heavenly Father …” she began, and she closed with “in Jesus’s name we pray.”
The theology was all wrong. The images she conjured in her prayer were all useless to me. As were the requests for things to be right in Heaven one day.
It was all wrong. And yet, and yet …
… I wept. And in the weeping, I felt wrung out, and stronger.
There was one bit of many bits that I learned when a group of us had a World Religions course in the first few years my husband and I joined our UU church. We studied Hinduism, and then asked some Sikhs to come talk with us. One of them told us a story of walking into the WalMart in the town where I live and being stopped by a woman as he stood in the doorway, wearing his turban. “Sir,” she said. “May I pray for you?”
He told us that he answered her emphatically, instinctively, enthusiastically: “Yes, of course!” he said. To us, he said, “I’ve learned you never refuse a prayer. Even if you know their prayers aren’t yours, the thought comes from a place of love. Two things we can never have too much of,” he told us. “Prayer and love.”
Somewhere around the time we took this class, I preached on Prayer. I was told that it would be some sort of heresy to preach on prayer in our little humanist enclave. But preach I did, and some people responded. I wrote the story for all ages that day, too. I called it “Jellyfish Light.” It is the story of how a mother explains prayer to her daughter (and it is really an awful, awful story). My own daughters called the high-beam indicator in the car the “Jellyfish Light.” (Next time you are in your car, turn on your high beams and see what they mean.) I remembered the story this week, as I struggled with the concept of prayer. I reminded myself that prayer is the time when I’m asking for more light to be shed on whatever is troubling me–and whatever I’m feeling grateful for. When I pray, I’m asking not for some father in the sky to solve my problems for me, I’m asking myself to be still and quiet enough to see a wider area, a larger perspective. I’m asking for wisdom from that which is greater than my little old brain and my ever-expanding-and-contracting soul. When I am grateful for something, I turn the high beams on and I see there is more to be grateful for than that which I’m looking at right this moment, in this small space. There is more.
Prayer is that high beam for me. It comes from me and from without. It brings me calm. It brings me solace. It takes me out of the realm of worry. It takes me out, when I do it right, of the realm of “me only.”
My neighbor prayed for me, and her words were wrong, but my ears and heart were open to the message that was the foundation of all those really wrong images: love. And it helped. It was a jellyfish of a different stripe, but it was a jellyfish light nonetheless. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful.
Now, can I pray for you?