Prayer comforts — sometimes. It can be an entreaty, murmured in despair, sometimes riddled with tears. Or a memorized string of words, said in monotone rote. Or a whispered "Thank you" to God. So many variations, the variety intoned according to the mood or occasion of the moment.
Often, prayer is not valued, thought to be the refuge of the weak. One cleric, describing a problem, laughed at a reception, asking, "Are we so desperate we've turned to prayer?"
Perhaps it is as Paul says in a letter to the Romans in this week's Second Reading, "We do not know how to pray as we ought."
This is a deliciously splendid reading. Brief. Heartfelt. And it tells us in a lyrical yet direct manner how to surrender to the Holy Spirit.
It is not easy. I remember once putting my seatbelt on and getting ready to wheel out of the workplace parking lot at the end of the day. Suddenly I found myself saying out loud the Guardian Angel Prayer. "Angel of God, my guardian dear . . .".
'The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.'
"What the heck was that about?" I wondered. It's a prayer I say every morning - along with others — but I'd never said it during the day. A minute and a half later as I waited for a car to turn left at the foot of the Dawson Bridge, a four-by-four hurtled down the hill and smashed into four cars.
Mine was in the middle. Bent steel frame. Driver's seat ripped out. Cracked vertebrae for me. Soft tissue injuries. Bruises galore. But later that night I remembered the prayer and marvelled at my guardian angel's making his presence known.
Paul also tells the Romans, "The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." How many prayers, novenas are made to the various saints, pleas for specific changes.
Usually we have favourite saints. My prayers to St. Anthony are said so often, I call him Tony. Mistake me not. It is not sacrilege. He is so much a part of my life, he is my dear friend.
Yet I cannot understand why he, the patron of that which is lost, cannot guide me to find Blake, my lost brother. At times I rail at Tony, asking him, year after year, why Blake is still missing. Perhaps it is as Paul counsels the Romans, the Holy Spirit interceding and says it is God's will. But my heart still aches.
Indeed, as Paul says, I may not know exactly how to pray. But I know praying is better than ignoring God or staying silent. At times when I finish an exam and leave class, I say, "Thank you God."
Or when a driver who got his licence from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box blasts by, cuts in front of me and then brakes, I choke back what I want to say and thank my guardian angel.
There are times though when I feel my prayer is "right." It can happen when I present a problem and beg for guidance, or ask for healing for Jude, Baby Ben, Siobhan, Mikey or open my heart and tell God how much my classes mean to me. A warmth spreads over the front of my chest and a calm stills a multitude of fears.
Prayer works. Just ask many a doctor who cannot explain why a patient recovers when the prognosis was shadowed with gloom. Or a problem smooths out, but not in the way you expected.
What is hardest though is to keep praying faithfully even when prayer does not seem to be answered — God's silences usually mean I am not listening — and my beloved brother Blake is still missing.