Immediately after I accepted a call to ministry and began preparation, the people of the church Sheeyun and I were part of began to ask me to pray for them, for this or that. Sure, I'd say.
But soon I was worried about it. I was not, never had been, and am not now a list pray-er.* And I had never been much of a petitionary or intercessary pray-er, either, beyond the Lord's Prayer.** I didn't want to promise what I wouldn't or couldn't do. At the same time, it seemed like the sort of thing I should try to do, if asked. But trying wasn't getting me very far.
I was agonizing about this as I drove on some errands or other, not far from boxofdelights's house (though I didn't know her then), when I suddenly thought, "Wait, we can pray about this sort of thing, and we're supposed to!"*** And I turned my mind toward God, and suddenly had this in my mind: "If you're open to me, and thinking about them, you are praying for them." Which gave me a dual revelation that was, for me, substantial. No, triune.
(1) We really are suppose to pray about what concerns us most. Not in theory, not "they" are supposed to. And as if to confirm this, several times in the next few years, when I remembered to lay my dilemmas open to God, God replied with the words-in-my-head.
(2) So that's what it's like, for me, when God answers directly. Weird. While I hadn't doubted that God has spoken and speaks with other people-- I found them credible-- I definitely didn't think it was the sort of thing that would happen to me. Call itself was not in direct words (which would have been a lot simpler, though I guess even less credible at that point.) (Man, call's nasty.) The things I remembered to pray about, outside my long-time habit of praying the Lord's Prayer nightly, were invariably quandaries. Things I'd run into a corner about but couldn't let alone. Trying to understand something, or trying to figure out what I could/should do about something. Things where an answer in words made sense as an answer. And I'm not particularly prone to give myself let-Mary-Ann-off-the-hook answers. I am a bit prone to self-flagellation. When the words came into my head they made sense, they usually reframed in a way that made the puzzle go "click." They didn't sound like me.
3. Prayer is essentially being open to God. Well, that makes sense. So I believe it. The forms we usually call prayer are useful practice, because we have trouble getting into, or back into, openness toward God. When I thought about it, I realized that whenever I got into a miserable swivet about something I was psychically curled into a hard little ball.
And so I try to notice when I'm hedgehogging, and reopen by praying. I depend, as one rests in water, on the availability of the constant prayer of openness.
And it's very, very strange, but simple, when God speaks to me directly.
* Unlike a seminarian who served an internship in that church. In introducing himself to the congregation he said that he had a very good prayer life and would be glad to pray for us, and waved a notebook. That still strikes me as funny, in the ha-ha as well as in the curiosity sense.
** My father told me when I was about eight that he'd never had a prayer that wasn't fulfilled. Scary.
*** I have no idea now what this note was going to be-- I just noticed the dangling asterisks. :D