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May I pray for you? 2 October 2012

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Life, Ponderings, Prayer.

No, I’m not directly offering to pray for you, the individual reading this post. Or at least, not instantly. Instead I’m just reflecting a little about the offer of prayer or the offer of the sacred, made towards others. They are not considered theological statements, simply an example of thinking aloud, because thinking is allowed.

An acquaintance of mine has mentioned in passing over the virtual communication stream that is Twitter a string of comments that can only be interpreted as bad news, and frustration with it. As I result I offered to pray for him.

Even at this first level there is that strange question: do you really need to ask someone’s permission to pray for them? It’s not as if this is to be published in a church news bulletin, after all, just a private matter. And what about the prayer habit I have developed whenever a fire engine, police car, ambulance or paramedic goes rushing past, blues-and-twos at full pelt? A prayer for God’s blessing, guidance, even intervention is a perfectly normal thing.

So why ask someone’s permission? Perhaps it’s because some people we know would be offended? They might see it as a waste of breath,  to pray to the God they don’t believe in (although a good number of my sceptical friends have expressed gratitude for prayers offered). Then again, in some way, perhaps it’s seen as an intrusion, a violation of privacy. Start thinking theologically about that and it will take you into very interesting places indeed, nonsense that it is… (But I’m not going to go too theological at this time in the morning). An intrusion and a presumption, “how dare you pray for me?”

We might not like to admit it, but perhaps there’s also that lurking element of pride. “Don’t pray for me. I can manage by myself, I don’t need help from anyone.” Really? Sometimes you can’t make it on your own. Interesting how we hate to admit it…

Related to pride there is guilt, or fear. “Don’t pray for me – I’d rather God didn’t notice thank you… and he might expect me to do something I don’t want to do!”

There are also matters of worth or worthiness that I find interesting. Sometimes there’s that old presumption that because I happen to be an ordained minister, and so wear my shirt backwards, that God is more likely to listen to me than another. Minister as totem, intermediary. “Say one for me, Vicar!” The meaning: Pray for me, because God listens to you more than he does to me. What does that say about both self-worth and our images of God? Closely related is the response to the offer – “I would be honoured.” The one asked sees it as a welcome offer, even a privilege, which is a pleasant surprise for me, even if it is only a hair’s breadth away from the more usual “I’m not worthy..”

But all are worthy. All are welcome, and all are heard… which is not the same as saying we get what we want from God the divine slot machine! Whether knowing that another is praying for us, asking for God’s blessing and intervention, has a placebo effect, is another case in point. Knowing we are loved and cared for can give us strength out of all proportion too.

I’ll save ruminating about the offer of the sacred for another day, especially in the context of the University.

Until then I will leave the question open, may I pray for you? Of course, you can do it yourself too, and while you’re at it, say one for me, would you?



1. Thomas Zunder - 11 October 2012

It s odd, isn’t it? Usually people who say it are either a: strangers and I don’t feel comfortable with people I don’t know and whose belief system I don’t follow taking a proprietary interest in my life or b: not actually saying it as meant, in fact they are using it as a way to admonish my morality and save my soul.
However, when you, a person I know well and respect say it, I think ‘that’s nice, I’d like you to think of me with good thoughts now and then’.

Maybe a: is an overly individualist reaction and I need to just chill a lot more, b: is not nice and maybe makes me suspect the a: people more than I should.

But yes, it would be nice.

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