Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
I’VE CAUGHT MYSELF over the last year praying in a way that I didn’t learn in church or from the prayer book and that we don’t hear from Jesus. These are prayers such as, “please, please, please don’t let me run out of gas,” or “please help my son get into the right college,” and even the more serious, “please don’t let it be life-threatening.”
It’s not that we can’t pray any way we like, certainly we can, but in Lent we have an opportunity to go to the desert with Jesus, and look this kind of demand-based prayer squarely in the eye and say, as Jesus in effect said to Satan in Luke 4:1-13, that the healing and wholeness that God offers is far beyond the particular outcomes we may have in mind.
The recent deaths of two important people in my life have helped me reflect on prayer and healing wholeness further.
My friend Martina fought a battle against cancer for several years before finally succumbing to the disease three years ago. Martina was a highly admired medical doctor, loving spouse and the mother of four young children. She fought this disease with every bit of intellectual, physical and emotional strength she could muster. Martina did not, however, turn to prayer for support. In fact, she seemed to reject prayer wholesale.
More than once during her long and very painful battle with cancer Martina challenged me saying, “Mary, you are in seminary. You are praying for me, right? Shouldn’t that praying be doing something for me?”
At her death, Martina expressed great solace at being surrounded by loved ones, but she did not find prayer helpful or healing. Although she was at peace and surely surrounded by the divine love of family and friends, I wondered what influences might have kept her from knowing prayer’s healing gift. I wonder how this sort of thinking about prayer impacts the rest of us.
My father’s death to cancer last year opened me to new considerations about prayer and healing. My father was 82 when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Given only a few weeks to live, prayer for recovery did not come to mind. My family and my parents’ parish priest prayed for healing in a different way—healing for any remaining injuries, worries or losses that troubled my dad and his loved ones, healing for reconciliation with God and prayers for the wholeness that comes from knowing God’s Grace.
During our own desert times of illness, loss or longing, may we come to understand healing as a gift from prayers that do not confuse Grace with magic or conflate healing with cure but that offer wholeness of a different kind, the wholeness of God’s Grace.