I was in a class that I hate last night, and there was a guest speaker. She was a retired preschool teacher and the wife of the minister at her church. She came to tell my class a story. She brought props. She came to tell us a story about how she and her family got through her husband’s cancer, her cancer, and her recent knee surgery. It got real really fast.
I remember reading a book called “90 Minutes In Heaven.” It was about a preacher who got into a really bad car accident and had a near death experience. Actually, he technically did die. His heart stopped and he saw amazing things before he was resuscitated. He spent a long time in the hospital and had to go through a really arduous and painful recovery.
What these two stories had in common is this: the characters in them were not alone. The lady in class last night said that she and her family would not have got through two cancer diagnoses and recoveries if they hadn’t had people praying for them. They knew that they had people and God on their side, and it was tremendously helpful to them psychologically, but also, they–and I– believe spiritually, in that the prayer itself made a real, significant difference.
The preacher in the story I read had given up on life. Towards the beginning of his recovery, there was one night when he was lying there in the hospital and decided to stop living. This decision had a real, physiological effect. He started dying. His friend, who was also a preacher came and told him that he may have given up, but his friends were going to hold an all night prayer vigil and were not going to let him die. They did that, and miraculously, the preacher started getting better and completely recovered relatively quickly.
I know from experience that it sometimes feels like praying is futile. Sometimes prayers are answered, and sometimes they’re not, and we have no idea why. Sometimes our prayers are answered in ways we don’t understand; in ways that don’t really seem like answers at all. Sometimes we have to wait. Sometimes, even if our prayers are answered and we’re sure of it, we despair because of all the prayers (our own or not) that don’t get answered. Sometimes we despair because the world and its problems are very big and we are small.
I read a quote–by whom I forget–that said something along the lines of: hope and despair are not polar opposites. They are out of the same mold. The only difference is that hope holds on to something. Hope believes in some kind of future. Hope allows for love, while despair is weirdly narcissistic.
As individuals we are small, but together we are huge. Metaphysics suggest that all beings are interconnected in a mesh that is meant to work as one individual, or mechanism. Sociology suggests that humans are social animals that are happier and more productive when working and playing in groups. Religion suggests that we are meant to worship God together and work together to better the world.
So many times it seems that when people pray in groups, those prayers are answered. When people pray together, miracles happen. When people pray together, mountains get moved…. That’s not to say that individual prayers aren’t as powerful. God loves each individual person equally, and pays just as much attention to the lonely hiker lost in the mountains as he does to the mega churches on Sundays.
That being said, there seems to be some kind of power in numbers. I know that, for some reason, I find it easier to pray when I’m with other people. I also feel more genuine when I’m praying with other people. Sometimes when I’m praying by myself, I get distracted, or I don’t say what I really want or need to say. Sometimes I try to pray for something I know I should care about, but actually really sort of don’t.
A couple nights ago I had a dream. A knight was charged with the defense of the castle while the king was away. He was strong, and a good fighter, and fully capable of doing his job. However, he was not quite capable of dealing with a supernatural threat. At one point, a demon showed up in the castle and attacked the knight, nearly killing him. The knight said, “Please, have mercy on me.” The demon obliged, but said that the knight must leave the castle and that he would be forever shamed. The knight left and went to hide away in a dark place. Then he said, “Lord, let there be courage where there is fear; let there be strength where there is weakness; let there be love where love is lost; let there be faith where there is none.” I had not been a character in the dream up until that point, but then I came into the dream as kind of a spirit-thing, and gave him a hug. That was it.
I think his prayer was wicked good, and I’ve been using it when I can. I’m really not sure what my part meant. I guess I’ll leave you with that. That is my prayer for tonight; that there would be courage where there is fear; that there would be strength where there is weakness; that there would be love where love is lost; that there would be faith where there is none in this crazy world.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!