I have profound respect for UMC and Baptist ministers who can pray in such uplifting and deeply personal ways with patients and families. Coming from an Irish Catholic background I am genetically non-disposed to utter Amens and Thank you Lords during prayer. Catholic prayer is formulaic and stoic, though not less holy for being so. But I am learning from my Christian family to let go and let God, to speak out words of Amen and Yes, Lord, when the context calls for it as it did last night.
A man in his fifties had died after a ten year battle with cancer. The wife was waiting for her own UMC minister whose praying her husband loved. But meanwhile, as chaplain on call, I supported the family and offered a scripture reading. I committed to staying until their minister arrived and was greeted by a diminutive black woman with a clerical shirt and collar and a black and white skirt and fashionable black heels. She graciously acknowledged my presence and gave me the title minister which I didn’t correct- it not being the time for pedantic title swapping. She waited for the family to voice their feelings and then she signalled to join hands and began to sing in a crackly soprano, “It is well with my soul.” I don’t think I would have the humility it takes to lead a song when singing isn’t your forte. But it was perfect. She moved into a reading of the 23rd psalm and then she began to pray.
Her prayer was simple with repeated use of phrases like Dear God, and Dear Lord and many, many thanks for God’s blessings. I am doing better with praying extemporaneously but I am not nearly as competent as she. For her it came naturally like water from a spring; with me I still feel I am stumbling and tumbling with rocks in my mouth and in my soul. I wish I could have recorded her prayer and studied it. her prayer went on and on but never felt too long. She gave voice to the faith of the family, to the love of the family, and to the pain of the loss. And the family and I gently added our quiet Amens.
So tonight, as I face another 12 hour overnight shift, I pray for the grace of prayer and the humility I need to stumble if that is what it takes to learn to let go.