Reference: "Buoyant Prayers" by Kristine Haig. Presbyterians Today, May 2007. pg 6.
Keywords: Prayer, community, care,
- Bottlenose dolphins may aid ill or injured pod mates. They may stand by and vocalize, or they may physically support the animal at the surface so it can breathe.—from the website of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens
The social behavior of marine mammals might seem an unlikely topic to bring up in the context of a column on intercessory prayer, yet it has provided me with an intriguing image of how such prayers function.
If you ever have experienced a major life catastrophe or loss, you probably know what it feels like to be unable to pray. There are experiences that make you feel like your whole life has been pulled out from under you, plunging you into a state of emotional and spiritual darkness.
Words fail. Even thoughts fail. The soul feels heavy and burdened, the spirit nearly dead. God may feel far away or absent or simply unreachable. It may feel like those terrible dreams we sometimes have, in which we are in some kind of danger but are unable to move, or even to cry out.
The Psalmist knew this experience. Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? . . .
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws,
you lay me in the dust of death.
(Psalm 22:1, 14–15)
Because most human beings eventually come to have at least one of these experiences. All of us will need the support of the faith community at some point in our lives. This is where the ministry of intercessory prayer becomes real.
When we are in dire distress we most need to be buoyed up by the prayers of others.
A comforting image
I was struck by the image of dolphins staying by their sick companions, and especially of their behavior of holding them up at the surface so that they can breathe. This is what it feels like to me when we pray for others and know that they are praying for us.
Without knowing what the dolphins are actually feeling or thinking when they engage in this helping behavior, I can still call upon the image as one of tenderness and care, of quiet companionship, and of trust.
Surely this is the spirit of the community in Christ, gathered together and supporting each other in mutual care and love.
May we buoy each other up by our prayers when one of us is “sinking low.” May we stand by each other, and quietly lift each other up to the surface — where the Breath of Life can come to us, and the Spirit of Christ sustains us through all our dark and troubled times.