Praying for Many

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Sister Alma Rose: How to Pray for Multitudes

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Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Dear Sister Alma Rose — I am on my church’s prayer chain, and people in the church make prayer requests, usually for loved ones who are sick, many of whom I know personally but more of whom I don’t. Some of the requests are for “the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan” or “the beleaguered and starving in Darfur.” I also pray daily for my own friends and family. I do not know how to pray, genuinely and with love, for so many people. Can you help? cartoon_group_2
—Signed, Baffled in Baltimore

Dear BIB — Sister Alma Rose understands y’all’s frustration. Sister Alma Rose, being Sister Alma Rose, is often asked to pray for multitudes. When she was young and naive, Sister Alma Rose wrote everybody’s request on a separate slip of paper, and she put all the pieces of paper in a “prayer box,” and then she prayed for the box, in a manner of speaking.

Or she would write the names on a list and then pray for all the requests in a bunch, but her heart wasn’t really in it and her thoughts would wander off to “Oh! The hyacinths are blooming” or “Oh! There’s a big stain on that cabinet; I need to remove it as soon as I finish off praying. Vinegar or ammonia, do you suppose?”

Then, as she became more devout, Sister Alma Rose thought she needed to pray very specifically for everybody, and she would ask God to remove so-and-so’s plantar wart or heal a difficult relationship, but midway through she would get very antsy, because she can’t sit still for long periods of time, and she would “surrender” the whole clump of requests to God and go to the kitchen and bake some bread.

cartoon_couple_making_listsSister Alma Rose does not know how prayer “works,” precisely, but she believes that there must be some kind of connection between the pray-er and the pray-ee through which the powerful energy of prayer travels, and since she does not know all of the people being prayed for and God does, and since God is the source of all energy, Sister Alma Rose finds that God is indispensable to prayer.

Bright blessing

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose gathers energy from God through meditation and then carries God’s blessing as a sort of shining angel. She floats with the sunrise to all parts of the world, and darts down, á la Tinkerbell, to embrace with light the person she is praying for. She holds an image in her mind, individually or in clumps, of those she doesn’t know personally.

At the River

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose visualizes those she is praying for being carried by angels to the Jordan River, or some other river, perhaps the Nile, where they (the pray-ees) are set down on the west bank to await the sunrise. Sister Alma Rose is there with them, and she sees them all. When the day dawns on the river, each person soaks up the healing rays sent from God, and the Holy Spirit carries all the pain and troubles away on a whirlwind, and thousands of birds sing for joy.

Lovingkindness meditation

Sometimes, after surrendering her own and everybody else’s burdens to God, Sister Alma Rose blesses her people (individually wherever possible, otherwise in clumps) using Susan Piver’s sweet, comforting lovingkindness meditation:how_not_to_be_afraid_of_your_own_life

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease

—Susan Piver,  How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy

Wafting Love and Warmth

Sister Alma Rose always, usually, when she remembers, turns worries into prayers. When she is fussed about something, she surrenders it (the “something”) to God. When she happens to think about someone, or when she sees an unhappy face in the throng, she calls upon God to empower her to send waves of love and light to that person. It is not at all unusual, after sending such blessings through the ether, for Sister Alma Rose to receive a letter, a phone call, or a visit from the pray-ee that very day.

Candle Prayer Ceremony

candles_boxedcandles_prayercandle_book-261x388As often as possible, Sister Alma Rose lights candles in the evening for the people and situations she is praying for. Not everybody gets his or her own individual candle, or else Sister Alma Rose’s entire house would be turned into a huge candle mob, and it would not be safe for her cats, Tim and Henry.

Alternatives

One could also divide up one’s prayer list and pray fervently for, say, five people a day. Sister Alma Rose does not find this satisfactory, but that doesn’t mean y’all shouldn’t try it if it appeals to y’all.

One can also, when praying the Lord’s prayer, specifically the part that says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” use it as a vehicle for petitions and intercessions: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Patricia; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Ephraim”; and so forth.

Sister Alma Rose has also made strings of prayer beads, each bead representing a person or situation. She enjoys praying this way, as it engages several of the senses and Sister Alma Rose is less likely to become distracted.

The very intention to pray is itself a blessing, and as Sister Alma Rose’s dear friend the Rev. Bruce Hurley used to say, God sorts out our prayers. 

May God bless y’all, dear reader: May y’all be happy; may y’all be healthy; may y’all be peaceful; may y’all live with ease. Amen.

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War and Peace

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Dear Sister Alma Rose — How do y’all feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? —Signed, Gnawing Her Nails in Nashville

Dear Nashville — Oh, Sister Alma Rose is nuts about them wars. She, herself, can think of nothing she’d rather do than crawl around on rocks, in 130-degree heat, being shot at or looking for somebody to shoot at. She often considers, oh, my, what a thrill it must be, driving a vehicle from here to there and wondering whether somewhere between there and here might be a roadside bomb just primed to blow Sister Alma Rose to smithereens, with pieces of Sister Alma Rose propelled sky-high and floating back to earth in, say, Lapland.

Sister Alma Rose is not troubled by death, because she believes that everyone who dies is reborn as a innocent child. (See “Sister Alma Rose: Beyond the Grave.” ) What saddens Sister Alma Rose is the certain knowledge that every Big War is a clashing-and-clanging manifestation of the Little Conflicts within each and every one of us. We are all like small children afraid of the monster under the bed, and we look for some Power to protect us from that monster, when, the fact is, the monster and the Power are inside of us the whole time. And the Power is very great, and the monster is all bark and no bite. But we don’t know that.

No, Honey, we don’t know that, so we try to destroy the monster under the bed, and every time we do away with a monster, three more pops up in its place, and they have the faces of our husband or wife or child or brother-in-law or people who don’t look like us, and even people who do but who live a few blocks away and that makes them the enemy.

So, it seems, we are always looking for people for us to be more powerful than them, and when we find those people we blast them to bits and then we wonder why we don’t feel any safer.

Even Sister Alma Rose can’t stop all the fighting, but she can find peace within herself, which is One Big Step; and she can pray, and there’s Big Power there; and she can do the metta (lovingkindness) meditation, which is as follows:

Metta (Lovingkindness) Meditation *

May be done individually or in a group

Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, closing y’all’s eyes. Sit with your back straight but not rigid. Take a few deep breaths, relaxing a little more with each exhalation. Feel your energy settle into y’alls body and into the moment.

This practice involves what might be considered a mantra. It includes a series of phrases that begin with y’all and extend to include, ultimately, all beings.

Classical phrases include…

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live in safety.
May I live with ease.

  1. Y’all can gently repeat these phrases over and over again. Allow your mind to rest in the phrases. Y’all’s attention will wander. The mind is always thinking. Acknowledge your thoughts but don’t follow them; let them drift by. When y’all become lost in thought, don’t become frustrated. Whenever y’all realize that your attention has wandered and you’ve lost touch with the moment, simply, gently let go and begin again: May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live in safety. May I live with ease.
  2. Call to mind someone who fills y’all with warmth and makes your heart bloom open — a child, a dear friend, even a pet. Visualize that person (or pet), summon a feeling for his or her presence, and then direct the phrases of lovingkindness to him or her: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  3. Repeat the mantra while thinking of someone y’all know who’s having a difficult time right now. Say the phrases to that person, as if he or she were sitting beside y’all: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  4. Repeat the practice with a stranger, someone for whom y’all have no particular feeling one way or another: a woman who walks her dog in your neighborhood, someone you’ve just “seen around” at church or at the grocery store: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  5. Now repeat the practice with someone y’all dislike or have trouble getting along with — a relative, a boss or colleague — or a public or historical figure: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in safety. May you live with ease.
  6. When we connect into these phrases, aiming the heart in this way, we’re opening ourselves to the possibility of including rather than excluding, of connecting rather than overlooking, of caring rather than being indifferent… of recognizing that the soul-candle that burns within one burns within all. And ultimately, we open in this way to all beings everywhere, without distinction, without separation.
    May all beings everywhere be happy, be healthy, live in safety, live with ease… all people, all animals, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known to us and unknown to us… all beings on the earth, in the air, in the water… those being born, those dying… those who have entered other planes of existence. Y’all can feel the energy of this aspiration extending infinitely in front of you, to either side, behind y’all, above and below, as the heart extends in a boundless way, excluding no one.
  7. And when y’all feel ready, open your eyes and carry this energy with y’all throughout the day.

* Adapted from Beliefnet, accessed 3/15/08, and the meditation practices of Sharon Salzberg, a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society; and Susan Piver, author of How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life

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