Magazine article The Christian Century

Prayer Chain

Magazine article The Christian Century

Prayer Chain

Article excerpt

PEOPLE HAVE ASKED me to pray for them or for their loved ones all my adult life. I practice intercessory prayer very seriously, but that doesn't stop me from wondering what I'm doing. Is intercession magical thinking? Does something actually change somewhere else when I pray? Doesn't God know our needs before we ask? What's the use of praying when I can't actually go actively help? Despite these questions I'm faithful to the practice, if only because praying for other people and for the world makes me a better person.

I recently found a collection of my intercession notebooks from years past. In addition to containing lists of names (including the church directories I prayed through regularly), my notebooks bulge with photos, professional business cards scrawled with childlike petitions, op-ed columns, and maps of warfare, drought, starvation, slavery and human trafficking. Looking at them now, the clippings serve as a kind of time capsule of current events during my intercessory life.

Overall, my intercession notes for individual people reflect life cycles--times of discernment, marriage, birth, trauma, tragedy, transition, death. Each event could introduce new intercessions and convoluted relationships: somebody's friend's husband's daughter in Laramie, Wyoming. I can see over time that each person I prayed for had his or her own extended network of cares. Names begat names.

Handling these old scraps of paper, I notice the intensity of feeling with which I remember praying. Years later I feel a visceral pull of concern, curiosity, love, and a surrender of part of myself to each name, each cause, each request for prayer.

A school collapses on students during a freak tornado. An earthquake buries villagers alive in the rubble Wildfires consume homes.

Touching the notebooks, I also remember the places and times I prayed: the wing chair in the evening after the children had been put to bed, the office desk cluttered with piles of work to do, my little brown rocker by the lily lamp in the rectory.

Now I pray in a convent chapel built for praying the divine offices: morning, noon, late afternoon and evening; silent meditation, Eucharist, daily intercession. We chant the offices as acts of intercession or in thanksgiving for petitions great and small. The Episcopal nuns I pray with receive intercession requests from around the world. But their own charism includes reparation for the ravages humans have inflicted upon the land in our time. …

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