Doing battle with daily dragons

Friday, June 10, 2005

Power of Prayer

Right. This is one of those things that my parents always told me never to bring up in polite conversation but the Internet tends to break down those long held conventions due to its shockingly anonymous nature. The only reason I’m writing today is because I’m trying to duck The Christian and come up with a good way of explaining to her why I don’t want to engage in a “healing prayer” session.

IMPORTANT POINT TO KEEP IN MIND BEFORE UNSHEATHING CERMONIAL KNIVES, SACRED TEXTS AND SNAKES: I have NO problems with religion. It enriches people’s lives and gives hope and comfort in times of great stress and grief. I have nothing but admiration for people of faith although I think it goes without saying that extremism of any sort makes me deeply uncomfortable.

I’ve had a fairly unpleasant last two weeks. No biggie, just basic life stuff, but a little traumatic nonetheless. Now that the Christian is self-employed, we often meet on Tuesday afternoons for lunch and so this past Tuesday, when she asked me how I’d been, I told her and solicited a sympathetic response with an unexpected side note:

“Do you want me to pray for you?” she asked.

This is not the kind of question that anyone can easily answer “no” to, my agnosticism aside. It’s a nice gesture; an offer to remember someone in your thoughts and speak your name to their deity of choice in the hopes that whomever they believe presides upstairs might action their proposal. (Interestingly, Intercessory Prayer studies are fairly common in hospitals these days and come up with some pretty hard to dispute results.)

“Sure,” I said, diplomatically, “I can use all of the positive energy I can get at the moment. "

Feeling that I’d satisfied HER, you can imagine my reaction when I received a text the following day saying,

“hi hun. is tues ok for a cup of tea and some healing prayer? xx”

At first I had to stop and try to figure out why she needed to ask ME if she had a cup of tea while she was praying, but then it occurred to me: she wants to pray WITH me rather than for me.

Let me tell you about my last experience of group prayer.

I spent almost every summer of my college career living and working in Goshen, IN where I attended college. The Shakespeare company that I worked with was brilliant, although not high on the pay scale, so I spent time looking for odd jobs around campus. Being a theatre major, I was acquainted with some of the sound and lighting equipment in the theatre so when I was offered a week long stint doing sound and lights for a visiting Pentecostal summer camp, I jumped at the chance.

Here are 3 things that I learned about Pentecostals:

- God shows up in their dreams and gives them extremely specific messages regarding what He would like people to do.

Worship Leader- I had a DREAM, last night, brothers and sisters, a DREAM from the LORD. And the LORD told me that he wanted YOU, Jimmy, yes YOU Jimmy, to go to INDIA! To INDIA Jimmy, and spread the WORD of his LOVE to all who will HEAR you!

Jimmy- But I’m only 9!

- When God decides to speak during a worship service, He often chooses a human vessel for His Word. Sadly, we have neither the neural nor the speech capacity to receive the unadulterated Word so it tends to come out as gibberish. Like getting one of those scam e-mails from Korea, but not having the right font installed. (I’m sure God is kicking Himself for not installing the “receive my Word” function in the lot of us, because we’d probably be better at knocking off some of the outrageous shit that we do to each other if He had.) What it does come out sounding like is this.

Rapturous worshiper- Bleep blip bloogitty blargh jibber jabber rama lama ding dong!

Second rapturous worshipper- I know what he said! He said, “Glory be to God in the Highest! Praise the name of the Lord!”

Third rapturous worshipper- Really?

-God makes people fall down. Seriously. He just knocks them right over. For the first two days, campus security was frantic with the incidents of fainting and convulsing, but after being told by the worship leaders that their campers were merely “overcome by the holy spirit” they started ignoring the writhing, foaming bodies on the ground and went back to making sure that no one was stealing bikes. I went to a Mennonite college. Mennonites are deeply embarrassed about that sort of thing. They like pot luck dinners, being nice to people, service trips to Africa and hymn sings. No one ever falls over in church unless they are experiencing a heart attack.

Seeing as how the Pentecostals liked to spend almost 6 hours a day in worship services, I ended up getting paid very well to sit up in the sound booth, keep an eye on the boards and read Lord of the Rings for the first time. Saturday night, round about the time Frodo was departing for the Undying Lands, the week had reached its zenith; the closing prayer service. My counterpart backstage was the theatre’s technical director, a man with a dry sense of humor that was beginning to wear slightly thin after a week of liaising with the leaders of this unusual outfit. I could hear him grumbling to himself over the headset as the worship session’s intensity ramped up a notch to include all three of the previously discussed elements. But suddenly he went quiet.

“Are you there?” I whispered.

I received no reply.

“Hello?”

Still nothing. The ominous silence lasted for almost 5 minutes when suddenly, one of the worship leaders burst out from behind the curtains of the stage next to where the tech director had been sitting and began running up the stairs towards the booth.

The headset flared to life.

“Lock the door.”

“What?”

“Just do it. He’s heading your way.”

WHO?”

The door to the booth flew open to reveal the worship director, with a look of dreadful determination on his face. In two strides, he’d crossed from the door, grabbed a hold of my head and began to feverishly pray for my salvation.

I have discussed on this blog before the fact that I am a dork. Anyone else confronted with a slavering madman who had grabbed them by the head would have aimed for the happy sacs and run. Indeed, if this particular gentleman had attempted the same thing in the street, even my dorkdom wouldn’t have prevented me from dropping him like a bag of laundry, but for some reason, since I KNEW HE WAS TRYING TO PRAY FOR ME, I froze like a popsicle and waited for it to be over. I had kind of a long wait, by the way. I think he was fairly determined that whoever was listening would know he was REALLY serious about saving my soul.

This is not a story that I’m going to tell the Christian because I’m not entirely sure that she’s not the head grabbing type too. I like the idea of prayer as quiet, good feelings touching you from far away rather than something uncomfortable sitting right next to you promising to be your conduit to the Divine. If we’re creatures of God, prayers need no conduit other than our own hearts. If we’re holy in our own right, then the same is true.

Perhaps when the Christian arrives on Tuesday, I can let her know without offence that I'd much rather just have the cup of tea.