The concept of “priesthood of all believers” so beloved of us Reformation types has, frankly, always been something of an abstraction for me; and I suspect for a lot more of us as well. Another abstraction – probably due to lack of opportunity as much as lack of understanding or immediate relevance – was the idea that persons in committed relationships are called to be priests for one another.
But it came home for me last week, during the hospital drama in our household, when Fellow Traveler asked me if we could pray together before her surgery.
I grew up in a household where “Come, Lord Jesus” around holiday dinner tables pretty much constituted family prayer. So despite my churchy interests and experience front and center in worship, praying with loved ones has always felt a bit odd and uncomfortable to me. I remember when my pastor came to the ICU after my mom’s heart attack to commune us – he was en route from somewhere else, and didn’t have all his chaplain gear, so I let him borrow my little pocket-size Book of Common Prayer that I sometimes take with me on anxiety-provoking trips, and we read aloud from it together – and how relieved I was that at last someone “official” was here to provide spiritual comfort to my mother.
But, anyway: FT and I agreed that praying together before her operation was a good thing to do. So we did. We prayed over the phone together while she was on the VA bus en route to Ann Arbor, and we prayed again over the phone after the surgery. I can’t exactly remember the words I used – I had a BCP-ish outline in my head, and just riffed from that – but it was both a powerful and an intimate experience, even over a distance, over the phone. There are times when I'm assisting in worship, and praying the Prayers of the Church, where I have a strong sense of carrying others with me in my petitions -- where the prayers that I treated, frankly, as a writing assignment the evening before are transformed into something much bigger; and that is how I felt at these times, but in an even more intense way.
But FT also provides spiritual care for me. It’s usually in the form of encouraging me in pursuing my lay ministry education and in helping lead worship; prodding me when I’m procrastinating in things like writing my Prayers of the Church or faith-blogging; and keeping the spiritual side of our relationship front and center when I get distracted by other things – which is a lot of the time. The other day she said, “You know, I think we ought to pray more together,” and of course she’s right. I’ve always wanted a spiritual director; well, now I have one.
So I think I’m kind of “getting” the priests-for-one-another thing now, in a way I never have before.