Monday, January 4, 2010

Prayer as Improvising

My fellowship, Wellspring Anglican Church, offers a wonderful "side altar" ministry during communion, which we celebrate every week. One or two people stand in the back and offer prayer for anyone who seeks it out. These "prayer ministers," who are selected by a person well-schooled in the discipline, are given a few basic guidelines on what to do. We do not counsel; we do not touch the person without asking; and so on. The ministers simply wait for people to walk to the back of the sanctuary and ask for prayer.

On Saturday night, I was reflecting that my service the next day as a prayer minister had a lot in common with a solo in jazz. One needs to know the tradition, listen to the other cats playing, and improvise accordingly.

I have been praying with the Bible as my guide since I became a Christian in 1976. I have read all the biblical prayers, some (especially in the Psalms) many, many times. I have prayed most of the prayers in the Scriptures and have prayed in other ways countless times over the years, doing this by myself and in groups. I am not a virtuosi, but I am a journeyman.

As a prayer minister, I have no idea what people will ask me to pray about. It could concern health, relationships, or direction in life. There are no written prayers to read at that time, although the Book of Common Prayer contains many deeply biblical and powerful prayers. As I pray, my chops come from my knowledge of the Bible and from the presence of the person before me. I have to have "big ears" to hear what these souls are saying and what the Holy Spirit may be saying to me about them. I endeavor to pray according to the biblical tradition, in terms of the spiritual lessons learned in my life, and the through the inspiration in the moment to love my brother or sister in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am sometimes surprised by what I pray. Sometimes I seem to get "in the grove." Other times, I wonder. But I do not have the option of remaining silent. I must improvise--in the pressence of the Lord and his people.

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