“Prayer is a very precious medicine, one that helps and never fails.”
Martin Luther penned those words approximately 500 years ago, and they are as true today as they were then.
Life has changed drastically for all of us in a very short period of time. Words like disaster and catastrophe and global trauma poignantly depict all that we are living through in this moment of our shared history. As the coronavirus spreads across the globe and comes to places that we call home and people we call friends and overwhelms systems we once believed secure, the losses pile up. “It is surreal,” a refrain I hear from colleagues and loved ones daily.
Three weeks ago, sixty-five of us gathered at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center to begin a Lenten Journey together, which we called “Dare to Pray.” None of us knew, of course, how much we would need a lifeline to God and to our deepest selves in the very near future. Yet that is how God’s providence works: God cares for us, sustains us, and preserves us in light of what we do not (and cannot) see or understand.
As we live each moment, the invitation remains: dare to pray. This is not a demand but a gift rooted in the promise that God is listening to us. Right Now. Remember those biblical stories? God listens to the mutual recrimination and blame of Adam and Eve. God listens to the prayerful heartbreak and longing of barren and betrayed women. God listens to the agony of enslaved Israel laboring under oppressive pharaohs. God hears the stubbornness of King Saul, the penitence of king David, and the petition of Hezekiah. God listens to the cries of the psalmists for justice, mercy, truth, freedom, healing, and salvation.
God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, listens. Take heart, friends, God is listening to us, because God loves us.
God not only invites us to pray but also helps us to pray. We are not left to our own devices. Nor is there a so-called “right” way to pray. Simple prayers, squeezed in between daily tasks, ascend to God’s ears as much as any other. Anne Lamott wrote that there are three essential prayers: “Help, Wow, and Thanks.” The “help” list is pretty long for most of us around the world these days: help heal those with COVID-19, help scientists and doctors develop a vaccine quickly, help protect our healthcare workers, help people to social distance, help parents figure out how to work and homeschool their kids, help those who are losing their jobs, help those most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, help us find eggs and milk and toilet paper, help our leaders make wise decisions.
I hope you also find “wow” and “thanks” welling up in your hearts regularly. Slowing down, paying attention to our surroundings, noticing and appreciating what we are accomplishing collectively and individually, going outside for a walk and listening to the birds: all this and more can elicit unexpected “wows” and “thank yous.” I had one of those moments yesterday. I felt exhausted from the chaos of working at home, child care, homeschooling, technological glitches, and lack of sleep. I was losing my patience with kids (my daughter and her two younger cousins) who had already lost their patience with each other. I barked at my daughter and told her that she needed to rest because she was clearly tired. This was ineffective (no surprise there). She barked back, “Mommy, YOU are the one who sounds tired!” I put my head in my hands, took a few deep breaths, and admitted that she was absolutely right. “Thank you, God, for my daughter’s stamina and smarts,” I found myself praying. I calmed down and so did she (no surprise there either).
What “thank yous” and “wows” and “helps” are welling up within you these days? Send us a brief note when you get a chance. We would love to hear from you and to join you in prayer.
Because, third, we pray together. Christian life, in fact human life itself, is communal. We may be socially isolated for a time, but we are not separated from each other. We may not see each other face-to-face, but we still belong to each other. We can hold each other in our hearts with kindness and warmth. Which reminds me of some “wow” moments. Reading about volunteers sewing masks for healthcare workers and taking meals to those who are hungry and watching Italians singing to each other from their balconies: “Wow, God. Look at those beautiful, resilient, people, all of whom belong to us and with us because we all belong to you.”
*Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA)