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Friday, December 03, 2010

Prayer of Violation

Have you ever had it happen to you?

Imagine this: 

You ask someone to pray for you, a routine request as a Catholic, and suddenly that friend or group of friends gathers around you, buries you in hands, with hands on your head, your shoulders, your hands, your arms, until you are a shocked bubble of silent angst as they burst into "prayer" via "tongues" or other various spontaneous prayers (that go on and on and on in multiplication of words) and because you understand they are doing good, you don't protest this intense violation of your privacy and space while you become the center of a spectacle in someplace as common, as, say...a Mall. Or a Restaurant.  Or the "gathering space" next to the holy water font in your parish while people walk by, gawking, and while you wish you could take back your prayer request and just go light a candle and pray quietly which was your original preference until you ran into your friends and asked offhand for prayers.

I have been quite uncomfortable with this practice for a Very. Long. Time. As long as I can remember, in fact. I suddenly wondered:  why is it we are told to pull away from every other unwanted contact, but not from a group of over-zealous pray-ers who have suddenly forgotten, themselves, what it's like to be ceremoniously or unceremoniously groped in the name of supplication to God? Why do we suddenly stop defending our boundaries because our space is being violated in the name of "prayer"?

I'm sorry for any offense that this post may cause, but I hope it's shocking enough to get the attention of the offenders to help them realize that their guerrilla-prayer techniques are, actually...offensive.

Please don't get me wrong: I want and need people to pray for me, and I often ask for prayers, but you must understand: this showy public practice is so common and so uncomfortable that I have actually STOPPED requesting prayers of others if I am in a public place, especially if I know they are of particular spiritual persuasions.

It comes down to this:  I can't stand having my space violated and having no gracious way out of it.

I also know that by this very post alone a bunch of people are going to comment claiming I'm resisting the Holy Spirit and that I "feel" this out of some major spiritual attack or it's Satan at the heart of my sense of violation. There are those who will argue that such a situation should be "offered up" and that it is a greater testament to God's glory. If you're going to make this argument, please stand down and have a little respect. Just a little. Thanks.  (Who wants to take a bet that this very paragraph will be roundly ignored?)


Prayers on the Spot

I have a friend, a charismatic Catholic by spirituality, who has been "formed" to pray for people "on the spot". For her that usually means laying one's hands on the person requesting prayer and breaking into some kind of spontaneous prayer in the vernacular, or, her favorite, "tongues".  She was quite literally TOLD to do this with the threat that if she doesn't, then she will not ever truly pray for that person and anything delayed isn't really prayer.


Having been on the receiving end of this kind of "formation", I tend to think the "formators" of this idea both ignore Sacred Scripture and of course, the dignity of the person for whom one is praying.

MOST people do understand context and don't do this, but there are others who don't "get" that some people prefer that their prayer requests be in private, that prayers for them be personal and with their regular prayer life, and prefer not to be the center of an impromptu spectacle.

I can remember only ONE occasion in which someone asked to pray for me while taking my hand, and I did acquiesce, breaking through my own discomfort to recognize that this person needed to do this. It was also in a public situation in which it was not a spectacle and would not be recognized as anything other than a quiet conversation.  Just us and God. Yes, I was uncomfortable, but it had context, a certain development in conversation that led to that moment, and the prayer that, while not to my taste, was proper and something I could handle and even with which I could pray along.

Contrast that with the guerrilla-prayer types that suddenly launch into "prayer", and, I have to say, involving "prayers" that directly contradict God's will, or seek to circumvent it. That is more agonizing than the public spectacle, for I can't pull away from this person, whose intent of course is very good, but whose theology is lacking as they forget what it means to pray in Jesus' name, assuming He's on board with a particular request without actually asking Him first.

It's like writing a letter to someone FOR Jesus and signing His name but forgetting to tell Him about it and also forgetting to ask the person on whose behalf the letter is written whether this is what they were actually asking.

Yeah. I have a problem with that.

My friends, I am a Catholic. I wear my Faith on my sleeve, I stand up in defense of our beliefs all the time, both online and in real life, and I've been quite punished for it. Please don't take this post to mean I am ashamed of Christ or that I am denying Him in some way.

I am not.

What I do believe, however, is that prayer is intimate. Prayer is, by definition, a conversation with God, and conversations outside of Liturgy are meant to be more informal, and thus carry a certain intimacy that is not ritualized.

We, as the Body of Christ, do support each other and we do pray for each other, but that directive and expectation should not be taken to mean we force our preferences upon others in public places. We do not and should not "lay hands and run" like a spiritual purse snatcher.

Whenever this happens to me, I feel more violated than affirmed.

If I ask someone to pray for me, just as if they ask the same thing of me, I expect a Rosary, prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours, a random mention to God  if they happen to think of me at any point in their day, or maybe a silent Hail Mary on the spot. Any of those thing is fine. I'm thrilled with someone simply asking Jesus to remember me.

When others request prayer of me, I do pray, and of course, the intensity varies, but I always send up an Ave or an Our Father, and then entrust the rest to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (an idea I got from Fr. Corapi who does the same), because I can't remember all the intentions that come my way. I do my best to remember, but I often fail.

Those who are losing their hearing or have lost much of it often speak very loudly because, well, they can't hear anyone else and therefore assume that they, too must raise their voices.

We are like that. We forget that true prayer happens in silence, not in noise, not in shouting from the corners.  God comes to us as He always did: not in the wind or the fire or the earthquake, but in the still, small voice.

He can hear us if we speak in the same tone, for He offers us the example: we pray from our hearts more than from our voices.

We have to remember that God hears us most clearly in the same silence in which He so profoundly speaks.

When someone asks us to pray for them, they are not  necessarily asking for guerrilla-prayers akin to spiritual purse-snatching, but are rather asking to be remembered in our regular intimate conversations with God, those moments that mean the most to us personally and to Him.


Rob said...

This is why I can never pray for you. It's too expensive to fly there and smother you everytime you need a prayer (plus I don't have your address). Oh wait! I'm Catholic! I was taught that God hears ALL prayers. Even my quick silent Hail Mary or Glory Be or a simple "God, bless her".

I too am uncomfortable as are you. While I understand the good intentions, it isn't the ONLY way (Thank God!). If it were, then facebook and blog requests for prayers would be useless. We would lose a marvelous network of prayer support that has been of great personal help.

Thanks for your post.

Austringer said...

Thanks, Adoro -- this sort of thing has always made me uncomfortable too, though I've never been a victim.

Adoro said...

RJW ~ ROFL! Suddenly I'm thankful for expensive airfares! lol!

I like the "praying from afar" that God can always hear!

Austringer ~ Count yourself lucky!

Lacey R said...

I totally agree with your post -- I'm not one for public prayer fanfare...the only time this happened to me (and I didn't mind it) was at World Youth Day in Toronto, but thankfully I wasn't the center of attention. I'm an introvert, I don't like drawing attention to myself and I prefer to pray quietly.

Thanks for this post!

Margaret Yo said...

I will keep you in my prayer for your special intentions when I visit the Adoration Chapel.

Enjoyed your blog today. So true. Thank you for sharing. It needed to be said.

Stitchwort said...

I've never encountered this "practice", and I devoutly hope I never do. It would make me every bit as uncomfortable as it does you.

(Seems to me there is something slightly wrong--a failure in charity??--when people respond in a way which makes many of us feel so violated.)

But I will gladly say a private prayer for you, or anyone else who asks.

Adoro said...

Stitchwort ~ I wouldn't go so far as to say it is a failure in charity as it is charity that drives these folks, quite sincerely. It is rather a failure in prudence, in not recognizing that everyone doesn't share their preference in that type of prayer. I see it not just with a certain faction of Catholics (charismatic-type or influenced) but of a lot of Protestant communities.

They are very sincere and motivated by a true love for God and His will..but they tend to not realize that others may not be as tactile as they are.

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Do you mind adding my new blog to your links please?

Janelle said...

As a Catholic of the charismatic persuasion, I have over the years become very used to praying this way with friends, even in public. As a cradle Catholic I never encountered it growing up, though... I'm 31 and slowly came to know these ways of praying through good friends of mine, only in my 20s. I love to pray this way and have received huge blessings and healing from the Lord by being prayed over this way.

What I am fully aware of, however, is that many of my friends are not familiar/comfortable with that style of prayer, and I don't usually offer to pray "over" those friends like that unless I am spending time with them alone and in private. The Catholic charismatic community in my diocese has for several years put together a training for healing prayer, which I think is the going deeper version of this style of praying. Part of the training includes that you MUST ASK the person you're praying for "can I lay hands on you?" and "do you mind if I pray in my personal prayer language?" (tongues), and respect fully what that person is comfortable with. Honestly, this type of prayer is best done in private anyway, for confidentiality. I will pray on the spot with my very close friends who also pray this way, but not for others who aren't used to it.

What you speak of as guerilla prayers may perhaps be what some call spiritual warfare... that, I am certain, needs to be used sparingly and only in a safe (not public) situation and when the pray-er is trained in how to do it. At least among my friends, we definitely take pains to be very open to His Holy Spirit and make sure our theology is not lacking and that we're not operating outside of His will in anyway in praying for someone. Approaching the Lord with humility when we pray is of primary importance.

I really enjoy your writing, and following you on your path of discernment. Blessings! I will pray for you! (from afar) :)

Adoro said...

Janelle ~ Thanks for your comment and perspective.

One observation I can make, with regard to the permission-asking, is that even being on this end of it, it feels like pressure to say yes. At least here in MN, we tend to be "nice" and not want to offend others. It's hard to say "no" to someone who is asking to pray for us and I for one have been guilty for giving permission I didn't want to give but felt like I had to or I would hurt my friend's feelings, etc.

I'd rather be uncomfortable than intentionally hurt a friend who is just trying to do somthing good.

Ridiculous, I know. But unfortunately, there always seems to be "pressure" with the question "can I lay hands on you and pray for/over you?" I know of some protestants that will do this without asking of course, because it's how they've always prayed and it doesn't enter into their minds to think someone might not be comfortable with it.

When it comes to spiritual warfare - I'm even MORE uncomfortable with anyone laying hands on another in that way. In my opinion, that needs to be left to someone with more authority and who knows what he is dealing with.

Prayer doesn't have to be hands-on.

I respect that you have a different spirituality than I do and obviously see this differently and feel differently about it based on your own experience. I also think that most charismatic-minded people do tend to be cautious and considerate about the fact not everyone shares your spirituality. And believe me, I'm grateful for that! :-)

And...thanks for your prayers (from afar) ;-) lol! I need LOTS of those!