In my last post I promised to offer some guidelines I follow when praying for my daughter, Arianna, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in 2008 and will be undergoing laser ablation therapy at the Cleveland Clinic in mid-February. These guidelines may be helpful for anyone who has the desire to pray for another but does not know quite how to go about it.
While none of us can claim to know exactly how intercessory prayer works, what follows is based on the assumption that intercessory prayer has nothing to do with persuading God to help someone in need (as if God needed persuasion to help). Rather, it is about subtly directing or changing energy that God has created as part of the natural order, entangling us with one another and with God in a beneficial way. These assumptions are based on my readings of both science and scripture (see the last post) on my experience as both a recipient of intercessory prayer and a practitioner of prayer and meditation for 35 years. Please feel free to share your own experiences in the Comments section below and share this article with friends who could use it.
Eric Elnes' Guidelines for Intercessory Prayer
1. The first person you want to focus on is not the person you're praying for, but you.
You're trying to direct (or affect) energy that is both within you, and beyond you, on behalf of another person. Therefore you want to be in touch with your inner Self and intuitively open to the Holy Spirit's guidance and direction (by whatever name you call upon Her).
You also want to focus first on yourself because it is quite probable that prayer is capable of moving both helpful and unhelpful energy, the latter being generated by stress or anxiety you may feel over the situation you're praying about. Anger or hatred may also affect your prayers for another person. Not in strong ways, perhaps, but in ways that add up over time. I believe this is one reason why Jesus was so insistent on directing the power of love even toward our enemies, lest we inflict harm on others consciously or unconsciously (Matt 5:43-46). It may also be why Jesus instructs his followers to make peace with their brother or sister before entering a sanctuary and approaching God's altar (Matt 5:23-25).
There are many ways of finding that peaceful location within you where prayer becomes most productive. If you want help with this, click the link to the guided meditation I provide at the end of this article.
2. Welcome the vital energy God has created into yourself.
With respect to Arianna, I want to direct my best energies to the precise area of her brain where she needs them most. I also want to make sure that I don't pass along any anxiety I may naturally be feeling as that of Arianna's father to her. Thus, I "work" on my own brain first, only sending energy her way when I sense that my own brain cells are receiving positive benefit. My object is not to kill the cancer cells but to strengthen the healthy brain cells so that they can multiply, resist the cancer, and overcome it.
I open my own brain to God's life-bearing energy, picturing an aperture opening along the left side of my brain. I pay particular attention to the location that is analogous to where Arianna's tumor lies (i.e., about halfway between the center left and front area), though my goal is to strengthen the resistance of surrounding tissue as well. I imagine God's life-energy flowing into my brain cells, fortifying them with vitality, even growing new cells and neurons where needed.
After several minutes, I often start feeling both physical and emotional sensations. Physically, that area of my brain may start to feel tingly, or warm, or "energetic," or even "fuller." Emotionally, I will frequently experience a sense of euphoria, of grace, of joy, or of wonder.
3. Direct God's vital energy to the recipient of your prayer.
Once I begin to sense that my own brain is responding vitally to God, I start picturing Arianna in my mind. I envision the same energy that is swirling around in my brain doing the same in hers. I normally flit in and out of awareness of Arianna, concentrating on her, then on me and my brain, then back again on her.
While I cannot be sure, what I think may be happening on a quantum level is that I am entangling my brain cells with hers, at a moment when my brain is receiving and responding to God's life-energy, thus allowing her own brain cells to receive and respond to it as well. Whether or not this describes what is actually going on is not ultimately important. What is most important is that when I envision Arianna, I am in a state where I am perfectly calm, free of anxious energy, and feeling good - even a bit joyous. And I am envisioning most accurately where the energy needs to be sent.
4. Give thanks. After several minutes (sometimes much longer), I gently pull away from my thoughts about Arianna and simply direct them to God. I thank God for the privilege of praying for Arianna, and for anything else I am grateful for at the time. Then, I either close my prayer or move on to other things I feel moved to pray about.
I don't expect that my prayers will miraculously remove Arianna's tumor, though I would gladly welcome the unexpected. Nor do I expect that a single prayer following the process above will have any more than minute effects on her brain cells. But I do believe that, over time, this subtle casting of energy may strengthen the healthy cells and neurons in her brain, allowing them to resist and fight the cancer with greatest effect.
Of course, I cannot know for sure that my prayers have had any effect on Arianna, but of one thing I can certain: They have an effect on me. Given the mind/body connection, it is entirely possible that praying for Arianna promotes my own brain's health and vitality. Most certainly my prayers set me in a state of peace, joy, creativity, and wonder in a situation where I might otherwise lose my nerve. In this respect, my prayers help me maintain the vow I wrote about in Gifts of the Dark Wood with respect to Arianna (Chapter 2: The Gift of Uncertainty): To not worry about anything until it presents itself to be worried about.
Finally, I know that I become more deeply bound up with Arianna, my family as a whole, with others who pray for her, and with our God, by praying for her. Whatever effect this form of entanglement has is ultimately in God's hands, but I trust it brings significant blessing and benefit no matter what happens ultimately to the cancer.
If you would like to experience a guided meditation I led for my congregation in Omaha based on the above, click on this video and scroll to 22:45.