Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I spent part of this week in conversation with healers. The majority were early career pastors like myself, learning more about good ministry. The others were health care industry leaders, who gave us presentations and led discussions. These included a Nurse Practitioner dealing with public health and sexually transmitted infections, a doctor committed to integrating western and eastern medical practice, and the CEO of Health Partners (the country’s largest non-profit medical delivery system).

So it was a full few days, and my head is spinning. I’m convinced I really, really need to imbibe more vitamin D! And I’m wondering how spiritual people, not to mention local faith communities, should think and act together regarding health.

We know the basic fallback plan, don’t we? Simply pray about ours or another’s health when problems arise. This happens in our church. Weekly, we invite folk to share prayer concerns with their sisters and brothers during worship. That serves two functions, to my mind. First, and most obvious, it lifts those situations before God’s light. Mysterious though the mechanics of such prayer will always be, spiritual folk have long believed it somehow mattered. The technical term is “Intercessory Prayer”; you’re interceding for another’s well-being. “God, Rosa needs help. Please help her!” It’s not the only prayer we should ever pray, but it’s well-known and focused on health in moments of need.

Honestly, I’m never certain if or how intercessory prayer works. It’s hard for me to imagine God picking and choosing health care winners. Still, the accumulated evidence of millennia of earnest prayers from all kinds of religious people, and the positive reports they’ve left behind, convinces me it’s not a waste of time. Perhaps there’s some spiritual energy that gathers as more people pray. Maybe that somehow reaches the prayed-for, and in cases where the odds of recovery aren’t zero, this attention could help tip the scales to energize her body to fight back harder and achieve healing, with God’s help, in whatever way.

But who knows?! Prayer is mysterious. It’s neither a sure bet if “done right,” nor a fruitless exercise for fools. Two central virtues of good religion are humility and compassion, and prayers for healing, properly understood, practice and nurture both. So keep praying, and pray well!

The second thing our weekly prayers accomplishes, though, is less about the person prayed for, than the prayer-ers themselves. Someone wise once said, “I pray not to change God’s mind, but for God to change mine.” And when we, during worship, put our personal concerns aside to listen to another’s pleas, we’re augmenting our individual agendas with God’s and our neighbors’. That makes a serious difference. First, it assists our spiritual growth, because you can’t grow spiritually by making life more about you. The Dali Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Besides, when a community gathers in prayer for a loved one in crisis, a co-worker with cancer, they’re creating space for everyone else to know, “Here, we are safe. Here, you are loved.” However that impacts the particular situation we’re praying for (and I pray it does!), the effect- if practiced well- affects the whole. It builds confidence in the listener who may not be experiencing crisis, right now. But should it come, they know a whole community will hold them close to soul.

So it’s like preventative medicine, right? When a group of faithful partners or friends communicate regularly that health matters to each other, health itself is built. That’s because health care isn’t simply about taking drugs when you’re sick. It’s surrounding your life with the nourishment and attention it needs to be strong and whole. Which we can’t do alone, amen? Individuals without community feel not only lonely, but less healthy. Alternatively, if you’re loved- and know it- life is stronger and better. Not perfect, obviously, but critically enhanced.

So help your neighbors build health by praying for each other. Not just during crisis, but…well…whenever. And ponder what else you can do to build them up before life smacks them down. Chances are they’ll then do the same for you.

Grace and Peace,
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