A Reflection on Prayer
by Mary Jo Meadow, sfcc
originally published by the
Association of Contemplative Women (ACW)
I have seen many references to prayer in emails sent about the virus pandemic. “I am praying for you.” “I will storm heaven for you.” I wonder what the pray-ers intended with these messages. Were they asking God to change the course of nature? Were they seeking a special favor? God often seems to pay scant attention to such prayer. Helga Bergold Gross wrote, “What we usually pray to God is not that His will be done, but that He approve ours.”
Jesus said to ask and it would be given to us. About what are to ask? That my cousin’s cancer be healed? That it not rain for my picnic? We certainly know that many such things asked for are not granted. Perhaps we are asking for the wrong things. If we look carefully, we see that Jesus’ promise about asking came right after he taught us the Lord’s Prayer—how we are to pray. Maybe this prayer should be our reference point for asking.
The first thing noticed: it is “we” prayer, not “me” prayer—not about an individual’s preferences. The petitions are for all of us together, and they focus on what we actually need—not our wish list. Perhaps Jesus meant to send prayer requests back to us as God’s minds and hands on earth. From Ashleigh Brilliant: “If we could all hear one another’s prayers, God might be relieved of some of his burden.” “We” prayer reminds us of action we could take to ensure that the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are answered.
We all need daily sustenance. As we ask for this, should it not lead us to think about all those who lack enough to eat, who have no place to come home to? If it is truly “we” prayer, it is not just that my friends make it financially through the pandemic; the concern must be for all.
We certainly need to practice mutual forgiveness or the world would become a blood bath. It is often near that anyway.
Again, it is not just that we want peace for ourselves and our country. The world is wider. What happens in Africa and the mid-East is part of “we.”
Let us not be put to the test. Just living gives us many tests. We cannot blame God for natural occurrences. Many seem to come from our abuse of the earth. Maybe we should ask that we not be put to a test that we fail. This petition can lead us to ask how we are being tested regarding our responsibility for seeing that we—not just my people—are protected during a crisis. That we, not just me, do not have burdens beyond our strength to bear—the poor, the suppressed, those discriminated against, the bullied teenager. The list of tests is endless. Perhaps we should petition that we not fail to alleviate others’ tests as much as we can.
Deliver us from evil. We need to know our own hearts, and root out what is wrong there. But it doesn’t stop there. We are the way God can deal with the evils of the world. What about voter suppression? Homelessness? Human trafficking? The wrongly imprisoned? Racial and class discrimination that leaves many of the “we” more vulnerable than others? The virus certainly brought this test to the forefront. The evils seem endless.
How Jesus taught us to pray can make us realize that our concern must be for “we” and not just “me.” Perhaps Jesus meant to make us think carefully about what we ask for, to understand our responsibility toward others regarding our petitions, and not be self-centered. God does not magically fix things. God does not rain down bread. God does not alter the course of natural events. We are responsible for daily bread, for forgiving, for meeting the tests of life and helping others being tested, for working to overcome evil in the world.
Mary Jo Meadow is a member of Sisters For Christian Community since 1989. She has published numerous articles and books. For more information about her ministry: firstname.lastname@example.org