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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Post: Collective Prayers, 20 Years Later

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Jessie B is a 20-something wannabe-super-homemaker with a modern mormon husband and an obsession with blog stalking. Her post started as a personal reply to this post from Eliana, but turned into something longer than expected.

I can't remember how many times we prayed that my brother John would stop having seizures; I grew up learning to ask for that as often as I asked for a blessing on the food. Temple prayer rolls, family prayers, all of it. What did I learn about the power of collective prayer?

For years, nothing. He did not get better. The seizures did not stop. All of our lives were shaped around his epilepsy in some way or another, my mother's most of all.

He was about 25 when the seizures stopped, for no apparent reason. Mom's prayers and temple attendance had been consistent for 20 years; she didn't suddenly start submitting his name to the temple and it isn't as though he has some game-changing priesthood blessing that finally worked.

Why so long of collective prayers, especially the temple prayer roll, where you would assume a prayer would have the most power? I don't know, but I do know it gave Mom solace when she went to the temple to know that when she brought her son's problems to the Lord's altar, He was listening, and He could offer unrestrained comfort and inspiration in His own house as He could nowhere else.

But still, why the collective prayers at home, and the fasts, that went unanswered for two decades, then were answered by the silent climax that one day, John simply woke up and had no more seizures? Not because they were more powerful, as a prayer, but because when we all prayed for him, it was an expression of empathy, and when we were earnest about those prayers, we were thinking about John, and about ways we could help him. And very often, the constant prayers added up to tiny miracles like the doctor that drove out in the snow on Christmas Eve to deliver John's medications to us so that he could enjoy Christmas with the rest of us. Our doctor knew how much we were praying for John, and I think he knew he could be the answer to one of our collective prayers that night.

Collective prayers raise awareness of the problems a person has, and sometimes it gives a larger group of people a chance to be the answer to a small problem because they're then thinking about the person in need. When a group prays for John, someone in the group is more likely to say, "Ah, I wonder if John would like someone to go with him to the Young Men's activity tonight so he can enjoy it without worrying if he has a seizure. That is something I could do to help a family that really needs it." And getting John out and socialising can be as much of a miracle as anything else, for both John and Mom.

No prayer of faith counts more than another, collective or not; but prayer is an intimate communication of our needs with the Father of our souls. When we share those needs with not only Heavenly Father but with His other children, it gives them the chance to act as angels, as representatives of the will of the Father by offering help, companionship, and miracles - whether or not the people who hear the collective prayer realise it.

Again, a collective prayer is not somehow more powerful than the prayers you offer on your knees before bed or in the morning. If that were the case, the opening prayer at general conference would be the highlight of everyone's life, and Joseph Smith's remarkable prayer in the sacred grove would have come to nothing until he got himself a few followers. Collective prayer isn't a way to somehow boost the power of your thoughts so they penetrate God's consciousness more deeply. Collective prayer IS an opportunity to invite the people around you into your experience, to understand what you need and perhaps even to feel a bit of Heavenly Father's love and empathy for the person or whom you're praying. It is an invitation to others to minister, and for the person praying to recognise that others can help them, and to be humbled enough to accept when the needed help is offered.

Ultimately, collective prayers are an attempt to share the most powerful sorts of experiences of our lives with the people around us. We try to share our love of God, the spirit that we feel, our convictions, and our desire to be better people, and very often we can (perhaps inadvertently) share the powerful influence of the Holy Ghost in a way that we couldn't otherwise.

I can't think of anything more unifying for a family or a group of friends to pray together. The power of collective prayer is the power of bringing people together and pointing them in the same direction, of reminding them what's important and that we're all in this together.

And really, what could be a more profound miracle than that?

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