Prayer Can Surprise You

20 Jun

An old friend of mine, Scott Stienkirchner, surprised me with a visit last week (we hadn’t seen each other in 10 years). Scott is a member of the Dominican Order and was passing through Burlington on his way to Madison. We sat in the church office at Zion catching up on news about mutual friends, life in the Church, and most interestingly, discussing our fairly diverse theology. Scott and I went back and forth comparing the UCC with Catholicism, especially the Dominicans. Then he asked me a question that caught me off guard. He said, “Do you pray for the dead?” I felt a little incredulous and said something like “Of course not–why would I? They’re dead, after all.” Not the most sensitive response, I’ll admit. Scott, being Catholic, explained that maybe being in community with God in heaven isn’t instantaneous (my word, not his). Perhaps it happens later and prayers would be helpful.

Father Scott pondering the UCC

A new thought to my UCC mind. As a progressive-to-the-left Protestant, I don’t feel that my prayers are needed to help anyone enter heaven. The after life is entirely left up to God and I trust that a loving God is in relationship with each of us into eternity. So the answer is “no. I don’t pray for the dead.”

But today, thinking about the conversation with Scott, I thought I’d give it a try. I prayed for the dead. And I was surprised at the result. The result wasn’t a transformation of their relationship with God (at least as far as I know) but rather a transformation of mine.

First, I prayed for my Great-Aunt Veda who died nearly twenty years ago. I thanked God for all she had given me–from clothes to bags of food when our family needed it to a weekly letter through my years as an undergraduate. I felt myself remembering things about Veda that I had forgotten: her laugh, the safe feeling I had sitting at her kitchen table, the camping trips she took my sister and I on. I felt a rare connection to Veda as I asked God to be with her. For the first time in all these years, I felt her presence as I brought her name into the presence of God.

My plan had been to pray for several other people but the experience of praying for Veda was a bit overwhelming; I hadn’t expected to be so moved by a prayer.

I think I will pray for the dead everyday; not because they need my help getting into heaven, but because I need God’s help in reconnecting with them. Thank you, Veda. And thank you, God.


Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Blogging With Jane, Laity, Theology



5 responses to “Prayer Can Surprise You

  1. goddebates

    June 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I totally agree with what you have to say: prayer is a great tool, I find it really comforting and furthermore even if your prayers aren’t answered or you happen to not believe it works, it can still help you focus you on anything troubling you. Thanks for the post.

    • janewillan

      June 21, 2012 at 7:44 am

      thanks for reading my blog! I liked what you said about “even if you don’t believe”. I think we place too much emphasis on our own “power” as if our belief is what makes prayer quthentic. .

  2. John

    June 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    This reminds me of an insight in one of Bonhoeffer’s letters from prison. It was the Christmas Eve before his execution. He was writing to his family, seeking to comfort them. He said that we must not rush to fill the emptiness resulting from a loved one’s absence. He said God may use the emptiness to keep us close to the one we are missing.

  3. Laurie

    June 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Interesting. Maybe something I should try too. L


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