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“Prayer was never meant to be magic,” Mother said.
“Then why bother with it?” Suzy scowled.
“Because it’s an act of love.”
(Madeline L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)
Rachel Held Evans is in the hospital, and the world is praying for her.
If I needed proof that the Holy Spirit works in our weakness, I’ll say that even in this time when Rachel is in a coma, she’s teaching me about prayer. Twitter is teaching me about prayer. This L’Engle quote, for example, was offered by a well-wisher for Rachel on twitter, retweeted a bunch, and then landed on my screen as a gift. For me. A healing.
It put to words something that I’ve struggled to articulate for a long time. Prayer isn’t magic. Prayer is an act of love.
My dad dropped dead one Sunday morning when I was a teenager, and since then I haven’t been able to make the same kind of sense of prayers for healing. I haven’t wanted to explore the questions that it raises for me about God, about control, about why some folks plan funerals and others plan vacations. Why some folks are in the prayer chain for weeks, and others are gone before anyone can ask for anything.
When I was a college chaplain, there was a healing prayer service that was offered on campus. My snarl of reactiveness to the idea of being compelled to participate in it woke me up to a truth: I haven’t wanted to open up the spaces of grief that this exposes for me. Twenty years later, and I’m still mad that I didn’t get to plead with God to save my dad.
I remember sitting with my mom once while chemotherapy dripped slowly into her from an IV, in a room full of really, really sick people. I remember asking her what she thought about healing prayer. She loved it, she said. She does it. “But what about the times when people die?” I wondered, suddenly a child again.
“Maybe healing includes death,” she said.
It’s Easter. It’s a time when death, and life, and healing, and suffering, are all wrapped up together. It’s a time when the simple good news is also so complicated, so layered and messy and unfinished. It’s a time when the goodness of the Lord is visible in the land of the living. And among those who have died.
I’m one of those desperately praying for Rachel Held Evans, though I’m not sure what I mean by that most of the time. She’s a woman I’ve never met, but who’s shown me what courage and faithfulness look like. I love her, want to share love with her. So I’m praying in imperfect, pleading, half-sentences for healing — not practiced, not polished, not magic.
It’s helping me believe that prayer can indeed achieve healing. A healing, first, for me.