Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Orare et Labore

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from "Life Together"

This past Sunday I was pray-er during our Prayers of the Church -- recruited on the spot when our designated pray-er came down with laryngitis. (This is how it works at our place on any given Sunday -- one moment you're sitting in the pew, minding your own business, and the next moment you're front and center. Which is why, each Sunday morning before I depart for church, I need to be very careful about always wearing the same color shoe on each foot...but that's a story for a different day.)

During Lent, we ask people to write their prayer requests on small slips of paper, which we collect, then read aloud. Now, offering these petitions aloud is a humbling experience -- not only because of the numerous glitches that inevitably occur during live church ("Uh-oh...I can't read this...does it say angina or Aunt Ginny?..."), but because of the incredible trust implicit in my fellow parishoners' sharing their inmost concerns with the rest of us. Some people write poignant mini-essays on their slips, detailing difficult family situations or their own internal struggles; other people simply scribble a first name. We offer them all up in faith; "Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer."

Prayer is holy work. It's what we're supposed to be doing for one another; not as some pseudo-pious exercise in "team-building," but because we mean it, and because it matters. I'm ever more convinced of this. And when I neglect my own daily prayer time, as I'm sometimes wont to do, I'm later nagged by the thought that I'm letting people down. I don't want to let people down anymore. Something to work on this Lenten season.

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