My father likes the tell the story of an adult Sunday School class experience. It was a men's class and there was discussion over some theological point. The teacher was not successful in convincing one of the members of his position. He finally said in exasperation, "I'll pray for you, brother." The recalcitrant member shot back, "I'll pray for you, too!"
Obviously, neither of them was in a praying mood.
I believe that using the phrase, "I'll pray for you" when the subtext is, "You are wrong, and I am right" is actually a curse. It is using the sacred act of prayer in vain. I am fortunate to serve a congregation that takes prayer seriously. We do pray for one another, for our community, and for our world.
Prayer for discernment, prayer for peace, prayer for healing in mind, body, and spirit is a central part of our worship and is something we do individually and with others in smaller groups.
Much of the time this prayer is silent. Some times it is spoken. But it is real. I don't write this to brag on the congregation or to suggest that we are super holy. Far from it. We are not. But those who think we are misguided, lacking spiritual depth, or that we need to be "prayed for" to get right with their version of God, obviously have not been part of who we are. I would say the same for our friends at the UU church.
One of my literature professors in college described prayer in this way: "When a person happens to cross my mind, I try to remember to think about that person and wish them well."
My friend, Bill K., who leads our Wednesday meditation has taught me a wonderful prayer that I often use in worship:
"Great Spirit, you know what the world needs more than we do. Bring it swiftly, surely, and most harmoniously into the lives of every living being.
Great Spirit, you know what each of us needs more than we do. Bring it swiftly, surely, and most harmoniously into each of our lives."
The serenity prayer is also a beautiful prayer that we use on occasion:
grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference."
We will use the Lord's prayer on occasion, too.
Prayer comes out of the experience of love and care. Prayer is respectful of others whoever they are and wherever they are on their journey.
I hesitate to write about these things, as I don't want to cheapen them by making them public. My point is that prayer is a sacred act in which we seek to open ourselves to God rather than have God do what we want for someone else.