SPEAKING OF PRAYER
IT'S NOT just concern that makes me pray for other people, but a sense of helplessness as well. When somebody I care about is having a terrible time, there is seldom much I can do about it, Even if I can help in small practical ways I cannot usually solve their problem, and the time comes, sooner or later, to commend it to a higher power.
But praying for somebody doesn't just feel like passing the buck, it also feels like taking action. Praying for another person is more than pleading for him or her. representing their case, so to speak. It somehow becomes a very real way of being with them and supporting them.
If I close my eyes and pray for a friend who is in distress. I conjure up a picture of their pain or confusion. I hold this image in my mind and mingle it with the other things I know of them their goodness and their wholeness. In prayer, I take all these pieces before God, so that He may gather them together and put them into place.
Praying for someone we love is as much about holding them, as it is about representing their case. But while it may be we who do the representing, it is God who does the holding. And through prayer God not only holds, but he also moves.
This feeling of movement is a very real part of prayer, but it is more like the deep down tidal movement of great oceans than the lightening speed of telegrams.
It is not a movement which crashes in on people like breakers on a shore. Instead it swells the whole surface of the sea and slowly pulls the sand across the ocean floor. It is a movement through God and between people which affects us cumulatively and unconsciously, deeply and effectively.
This for me is the over-riding feeling of prayer: the sense of being connected, both to the person for whom I am praying, and also to God. If faith can "move mountains", then prayer can cross continents.
When I have been separated in the past by great distances from those I love, I have nevertheless experienced being near to them in prayer. I may not have been able to see them or talk to them, but I was able to pray for them, and through the act of praying to feel closer to them.
The act of prayer is often seen as a solitary act, but in many ways it seems to me to be the most social act of all. Today, many more people live alone than at any other time in history. Alive in a lonely flat amidst the bustle of the city can often be as isolated as that of the ancient hermit. But a life full of prayer can reach out and span the world, making a reality of the so-called ."global village".
It can even move between the living and the dead. And all of us who pray are forever held in the great prayer of Jesus, who prayed for the disciples and all people, that "they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love before the foundation of the world." (John 17,v 24).