Reflections by Jerry Webber

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Prayer: Holding the Pain

The frequency of tragedy and human pain in recent weeks has felt overwhelming to me. I find that I’m still praying for one thing – and the persons impacted – when the next thing happens . . . bombings in Boston . . . explosions in West, Texas . . . floods in the Midwest . . . tornadoes in Oklahoma . . . devastating fires in my hometown of Houston, Texas.

And these crises are merely the tip of the devastation . . . they cannot completely account for the daily violence and massive upset that modern life brings all over the world.

I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, I often don’t know how to pray. I pray for comfort, of course, and healing and strength. But I also don’t always have words to pray.

This past Sunday morning in our Contemplative Worship, Rev. Melissa Maher gave voice both to our desire to pray for those in need, and to the difficulty we have in knowing what to pray. Sometimes, like Sunday as Melissa led us, I simply picture a person’s face or a situation, and whisper, “Mercy.” Other times, I’ll pray silently. I may cup my hands and try to hold those who are hurting out to God.

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of these tragedies, I came upon another prayer. I borrowed it from Psalm 13. I prayed it, both personally and publicly, in the days after the first tornado swept through Moore, Oklahoma. It occurred to me that for people who feel devastated and in the pits of pain, their grief and difficulty seems all-consuming. It feels like lugging around a huge sack of pain . . . and often, the sheer energy needed to carry around the sack of hurt keeps persons from making decisions, or taking the next step toward life.

So it seemed right for me to tell God that for a few seconds, I would carry the pain of folks who were suffering, in that case, from the tornado’s devastation. I would try to hold their pain. That was my intention. Then, I borrowed the words of Psalm 13 to help me carry that pain. That psalm, in The Book of Psalms (Stephen Mitchell) goes like this:

How long will this pain go on, Lord, this grief I can hardly bear?
How long will anguish grip me and agony wring my mind?
Light up my eyes with your presence; let me feel your love in my bones.
Keep me from losing myself in ignorance and despair.
Teach me to be patient, Lord; teach me to be endlessly patient.
Let me trust that your love enfolds me when my heart feels desolate and dry.
I will sing to the Lord at all times, even from the depths of pain.

First, I told God that as best I could, I wanted to hold the pain of those impacted by the tornado. Then, as best I could, I intentionally held their pain for a few moments. And I used this psalm to help me do it. I prayed its words on behalf of people I didn’t know. I prayed it with them and for them.

It has occurred to me that carrying another person's pain puts us in unique relation with them that other forms of prayer cannot. It puts us with them, in a very unique kind of communion with them. In a very intense way, we are in union with them for a few moments.

Of course, this is the kind of thing God does on our behalf all the time.

So I commend this prayer to you. There will be more tragedy, more bad news to be sure. Even for those of us who are miles away from the difficulty, prayer puts us on the front lines.

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