Sisters in Scripture
A Conversation on Prayer    10/20/2021
 Person Reading the Bible
It seems we opened a conversation on prayer with last newsletter's "Tony, Tony, come around!" Several readers shared memories of St. Anthony coming to their rescue in their childhood and beyond. "Because I’m often misplacing things, St. Anthony has become 'Tony' to me and my family just shake their heads when I mutter, 'please, Tony, help me find…..' We are old friends and I think he just laughs and shakes his head too". (- Mary K.)

But the article also brought up the thorny questions raised by prayer. Sometimes prayers are not answered as we had hoped, as was the case with the woman who was lost. And does God really need us to beg for assistance or give advice on what to do?

Most of us seem comfortable with prayer that praises or thanks, asks forgiveness, guidance, or grace. The problem seems to come in when we are asked to pray for someone or for a specific outcome. "I have great difficulty praying for specific results...Recently, many requests have come my way and I find myself praying for all of those intentions by placing them in God’s hands and trusting in the outcome. Often the outcome is different than the people requesting my prayers had hoped, but it seems the strength and courage helped." (- Mary K.)

Episcopal priest, Martin L. Smith, assures us, "God is already in the situation of need, present and active with those who are in want as their upholder and fellow-sufferer. God has reached out to us from that place and touched off a spark of response to that need. Having stimulated our caring, God recruits our love and concern by stirring us from within to offer that love and concern in intercession. God then receives the love we offer and weaves it into the combined influences which together can bring about the good that God desires" (from his book, The Word is Very Near).

The invitation to pray for another or that inner urge to do so is a sacred task. Sybil MacBeth reminds us, "When someone says, 'Please pray for me,' they are not just saying, 'Let's have lunch sometime.' They are issuing an invitation into the depths of their lives and their humanity--and often with some urgency." (from her book, Praying in Color). How, then, should we respond? MacBeth starts by imagining how she would want someone to pray for her. "When I ask people to pray for me, I am asking them to fill the universe with good thoughts, to wrap me in God's love, to give me hope, reconnect my hands and heart with God's when I'm too fraught with fear or sadness to do it by myself."

She acknowledges that "worry is not a substitute for prayer. It is a starting place, but not a staying place." It tends to happen when we forget Who it is that has invited our participation. When we focus on the presence of God, worry recedes. The love we offer, our willingness to care, the actions that arise from our concern--all of these contribute in ways beyond our knowing to the good God has in mind, whatever that may be. 

People use a variety of ways to put words on that prayer as they feel called to do. Many have prayer practices they can incorporate such as a rosary, daily Mass, psalms, meditation, etc. Others create touchstones that remind them to pray for the person throughout the day: names on a bookmark in the Bible, small papers with names in a basket by their prayer space, the coloring prayer MacBeth describes in her book, or simply setting aside the time, perhaps with coffee or tea, to sit, be still, and recall with love. These simple acts engender a tenderness and compassion that is, of itself, prayer. Sometimes it prompts us to do more: to send a card, make a casserole, place a call, enlist the aid of another, or advocate for someone in need. 

Next time a prayer request comes your way, recognize it as invitation. Know that the One who sends it is already at work and you asks only that you extend the love that is yours to give. 

photo credit: Tima Mirashnichenko, pexels

Why These Women by Kathleen MacInnis Kichline

UPDATE ON WHY THESE WOMEN? Four Stories You Need to Read Before You Read the Story of Jesus.

 The manuscript is now being formatted so I hope to soon get readable PDF's to those wonderful folks who volunteered to be part of my Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) Team. Thank you all--I will keep you posted. I will also send out a separate invitation in the near future to all my newsletter readers in case you want to join that team. The basic premise for the team is willingness to read the book ahead of time and then provide a review when the book comes out, a crucial set up for a successful book launch. I also hope in these next several months to include short excerpts from the book in our newsletters. Should be fun!
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Not a sparrow falls...    10/06/2021
Not a sparrow falls..."What's the number for that Tony guy?" The question came from the back seat as I was driving my six-year-old grandson to school.
Number? Tony guy?
"You mean a phone number?"
"Yeah! What's the phone number for the Tony guy?"
"Tony who?'
"You know, the one who helps you find things."
"Oh, you mean St. Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Articles."
"That's the one. I need his number."
"Well, he doesn't have a number, like a 1-800-something."
"Then how am I supposed to get a hold of him?"
"You say a prayer asking for his help,"
"That's it? You just say a prayer?"
'Well it always helps to pray no matter what is on you mind. Here, let me teach you a quick little poem prayer you can remember. Tony, Tony come around. Something's lost that must be found."
"So, you just say that and then you will find what's lost?'
"Well, not exactly. You say a prayer and you get better at looking."
"I can do that!"

That story always makes me smile. Just one small introduction to the many incremental lessons on the mysterious ways of prayer. I think back and consider how I could have nuanced the explanation. I do some theological nit-picking, but all-in-all, it was age-appropriate and only slightly heretical.

Still, my mindset today makes me wonder. Was I in reality, just setting him up? I mean things get lost and never get found. Not just baseball mitts or your other shoe. Really important things. Sometimes even people. We had a tragic event recently in our small town when an elderly dementia patient wandered off from a facility and could not be found. Police, firefighters, search and rescue teams, dogs, horses, and drones--every possible resource was employed to no avail. They did not find her body for two weeks and when they did she was less than half a mile from where she'd started, having fallen, apparently, into a steep and overgrown ravine--what the locals call a "holler." The ravine was alongside the parking lot of a nearby church where, like all the various churches, countless prayers had lifted heavenward on her behalf.

"Tony, Tony come around. Something's lost and must be found..." If only it were that simple. If only there were an 800 number. I do not know why some prayers are answered so immediately and joyously and others fail so spectacularly. I do know that losses are a necessary part of life from which we cannot be protected. From the moment we lose the protection of our mother's womb, a process is set in motion wherein we gain and we also lose.

"It's always good to pray..." I said it to my grandson then and I would say it again. The praying might change him far more than his circumstances and that could indeed be a good thing. But was I wrong to encourage him to pray? To give him the hope that God would hear and care?

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Mt. 10:29-30).

I still believe this. I believe it even as I continue to pray for the family of the poor woman lost in the woods. I believe the gray hairs on her head were counted by God, that in God’s eyes, she was worth more than the many sparrows and woodland creatures who surrounded her in her death. I believe that God cared for and comforted her and will continue to care for and to comfort her family.

My only proof of this is that I have been loved that way myself and I have loved that way in return. I have pulled up the covers on that slumbering six-year-old. I have stroked and kissed the hairs on his head. And in that moment, I have known that God does the same.

We once had a retired Jesuit priest whose favorite saying was, "You cannot outdo God in generosity.” The finest impulse I ever had, the deepest love I ever felt, the bravest thing I ever did—all of this is but a shadow of God’s goodness, love, and power.

Tonight ...
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