softly and tenderly...

It is my conviction that we are all born with an organic preference when it comes to prayer. Not necessarily liturgical prayer or even organized religious prayer. Just spontaneously connecting our flesh to that grace that is greater than ourselves. Sometimes it sounds to me like laughter, other times song or music. Some people pray by touch, some clearly pray with their minds and words. And then there are those like me who pray spontaneously with our eyes. 

I am a secular/sacred monk who mostly weeps my prayers. I weep for joy as well as sorrow. I shed tears in ecstasy and agony, in the presence of profound beauty as well as in the reality of brutal oppression and injustice. I cry at "chick flicks" and documentaries, music that moves my soul as well as the pain that wounds those I love. Fr. Ed Hays turned me on to the idea of praying "all ways" not simply always:  with my flesh, my taste, my ears, my heart, my mind as well as my eyes and tears. It doesn't come as a great surprise to me that Jesus wept, too. And while that may be the Bible's shortest sentence, it rings true over and again in my experience.

This weekend has been saturated in tears and prayers as we held precious Louie up to God's love, his doctor's care and his beloved parents' intuitive wisdom and extraordinary compassion. When I first heard of his life-threatening illness on Friday, I couldn't breathe. It felt like my stomach would turn in a second's notice. Over and again I had to tell myself: inhale, man, breathe. Then the tears arrived - not in raging torrents - but in a relentless wave of grief and fear that washed over me without apparent logic. Everything ached. By Saturday, I was so ungrounded that I reached out to my dearest and most trusted friends, family and colleagues to beg for prayer: prayers for Louie's healing, prayers for his parents' strength and prayers for my sanity. I was unhinged and raw.

And oh the prayers my loved ones shared with me. I felt them come in a rush at first and then in a quiet stream of healing throughout the day. There were prayers of beautiful words and prayers of agonizing solidarity. There were simple affirmations of God's love and quiet reminders of the bonds we all shared. And they awakened me - once again - to that great cloud of witnesses here and beyond who intercede for us with sighs too deep for human words. I have known tragedy and crushing sorrow before. But I have never personally experienced the power of prayer like this. Ever. And now Louie appears to be mending. We travel to NYC in the morning to be with him and his parents for a short time. Perhaps we will head back at week's end to help out if that would be useful. 

So often I preach and teach about the power of prayer. I trust it. I often meditate. I study. I pray through music. And I pray for those in my flock - even those I don't really like but lift to God and God's love. Yesterday and today I felt the prayers of those who pray, too. I am humbled and knocked on my ass in gratitude. Indeed, as one of my favorite hymns reminds: "Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home, softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling..." We were given a prayer blanket after worship today to bring to Louie and that too was a prayer - a prayer of presence, a prayer of affirmation and a prayer of encouragement - I can't wait to wrap my little man up in all those prayers tomorrow as the new day dawns.

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