Alvernia University in Reading, PA is blessed with a most serene campus. I’ve had a handful of opportunities to attend events at the school since we moved to the area, nearly eight years ago now. Each time I’ve been there, a sense of peace and calm has come over me. Yesterday, I attended a social media marketing seminar in one of their buildings, actually the McGlinn Conference Center and Spirituality Center, a ministry of the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters.
One of the sisters welcomed us into the center and provided a short introduction, including an extremely brief idea about who the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters are and what they do. She told us that the sisters live in this building and hold spiritual services there. She said that she has asked her sisters worldwide to pray for everyone who enters the building. From the U.S. to Brazil to Liberia to Mozambique, women were praying for us. I had to let my mind linger on this idea for a few minutes while other introductions took place.
I imagined the women in their simple dresses and sandals, across the globe, asking the universe to take care of me.
In that tiny moment, I felt exceptionally loved.
I’ve never asked a group of people to pray for me. That doesn’t mean they haven’t, but I have never personally asked for it, so I’m not often faced with an awareness that it’s happening. I do remember being at a week long youth retreat in high school and some girls I barely knew approached me after a card-carrying-Jesus-lover-jam-band concert to say that Jesus was telling them to pray for me to be saved. YIKES! Freaked me right out.
I remember thinking, “Maybe you’re misunderstanding, because my soul is actually pretty safe.” I also remember wondering, “Why would you think it’s okay to tell me that?” Those girls were making a lot of assumptions about me, and yes, they were definitely misunderstanding whatever message they thought they were receiving from the other side. As genuine as they thought they were, I was left with the impression that those girls were actually the ones in need of some prayer. So, I was 17 – and a little cocky – but I was fairly certain that my intuition was right.
You see, I have to admit, I don’t believe prayer works the way we often assume it does.
Maybe I’m like the Unitarian Universalists this way – sometimes I’m more certain of what I don’t believe than what I do.
I don’t believe prayer prevents people from dying before we’re ready to let them go. I don’t believe prayer brings sobriety to addicts. I don’t believe prayer will increase the size of our paychecks. I don’t believe prayer alone will rescue us.
What I do know, is that prayer connects us. If we’re all made of the same physical stuff as the stars and everything else, which is something I do believe, then it makes simple sense to me that our spirits might all be made of the same stuff and come from the same place; and praying together might provide an avenue for our spiritual selves to reconnect with their missing pieces.
I’m not going to pretend to have it all figured out. My ego isn’t that big.
I think a deep meditation can connect me with my inner self, to help me understand things and make decisions with more clarity. A good, genuine prayer group can uplift us. It can help us feel important, validated, cared for, and loved. Praying to a higher power, if you should believe in one, is in its most basic form, asking for help.
Because we were never meant to do all of this alone.
In the Sanctuary Model of Trauma Informed Care, Sandra Bloom and her partners present us with three questions we should ask each other anytime our community gathers. The beauty of these questions, is the impact they have on organizations and families and an assortment of groups from prisons to churches. We ask each other:
1. How are you feeling? – This question should be answered with emotion words but without explanation, that can come later in a one-on-one setting rather than in the group.
2. What are your goals for today? – A person can list as few or as many goals as they need, with the understood hope that people will be specific.
3. Who will you ask for help? – We should choose individuals and again, be specific. Maybe it’s a friend or sister or that higher power.
And it all comes together. Who will you ask for help? How many times have I been in a bad situation without answers, without a plan, without hope? And I stewed in that horrifying confusion, alone. How many of those trials could have been eased if I had just asked for help? It’s one of the most difficult things for some of us to do, yet so vital to our survival.
Today, I am fighting against a very strong desire to check out and be alone with my thoughts for a few hours. Instead, I am going to be honest with people about where I am, and I’m going to ask for help. 1. I am feeling worn out and stressed. 2. I have to attend a funeral for a man who, during his tenure, made great contributions to our organization. My goal is to stay mentally present at the service. 3. I am going to ask my director for help. Then I’m going to go home and enjoy my family.
Sometimes, if we’re open to it, it’s just that simple.
Agere Contra, friends