Nouns, Verbs, and Radical Prayer

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 As a deacon, I am accustomed to people stopping on the way out of church and asking me to pray for some intention. “Please pray for my sister, who is going through treatment for cancer.” “Please pray for my father, who is struggling with dementia.” These are important and often powerful moments, both for the one who requests prayer and the one who prays.  

At the same time, I am conscious that prayer offered in these circumstances risks becoming little more than a pious custom. We can become too casual with our promises to pray for others. Phrases like “I’ll pray for you” or “I’ll hold you in prayer” become like punctuation marks at the end of a sentence rather than the nouns and verbs that convey its meaning.  

Jesus poses a challenging question to all of us who pray in his name: “Do you believe that I can do this?” We should be wary of answering that question too quickly. Many of us carry wounds from times when important prayers seemed to go unanswered. As a result, we often hold part of ourselves back when we pray, afraid of being wounded again.  

There is no way around the fact that the kind of faith Jesus asks for when we pray is radical and unreasonable. Perhaps that is because he wants us to come to know a God whose faith in us is radical and unreasonable. Knowing that may give us the strength to answer “Yes, Lord” with courage and conviction.  

© Liturgical Press.

Deacon J. Peter Nixon

J. Peter Nixon is a deacon serving in the Diocese of Oakland, California. A regular contributor to Give Us This Day, he holds a master’s degree in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University. 

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