On a recent Wednesday morning, I joined an extraordinary circle of people sitting in the chancel up here: Our Anam Cara prayer group.
“Anam Cara,” by the way, is a Celtic phrase that means “soul friend.”
We chanted a psalm, and sat for a time in silent meditation and prayer.
There is something powerful about sitting in a circle with soul friends praying in silence.
Most everyone in the group had their eyes closed, but I often pray with my eyes open.
I began looking around, and I soon focused on these deep, dark redwood walls.
As I meditated, I began to wonder about the prayers that these walls have absorbed over many, many years.
These walls have heard our prayers Sunday after Sunday, year after year, decade after decade.
These walls have heard prayers of joy at weddings, and prayers of thanksgiving at the birth of babies.
These walls have heard prayers of grief and lament at funerals.
These walls have heard pleas for safety in times of war and natural disasters, and these walls have heard prayers for healing in times of sickness and trouble.
These walls have heard not just words, but the prayers of our song and the prayers of our silence.
These walls have given us back prayers for our eyes and meditations for our hearts.
Prayer books have come and gone, but the prayers themselves live on in these walls.
I believe that every prayer ever uttered is still alive. Our prayers never cease to be heard.
This church exists so that anyone can come here to pray.
Those who come here to pray may not know about our doctrine or creeds, and they may not know anything about our way of worship, or that this is an Episcopal Church, or care a wit about any of that.
But those who come here somehow know this is a sacred place where it is safe to be silent, safe to pray.
Yes, God is everywhere. Yes, you can pray in your workplace or in your home or at the grocery store.
But there is something about praying here, in this holy place – in this church building – that is extraordinary and sacred, and cannot be replicated anywhere else on this planet.
Praying is the most important thing we do here. Without prayer, this is only a building on a block of many buildings.
Praying together here sharpness our awareness of God’s holy presence within us and around us, and can strengthen us especially when we need it most.
We come to together to pray especially when it is hardest to pray. God created us to pray.
The center of the Church is right here – the Lord’s Table – and that is no accident. This is where we gather all of our prayers and the longings of our hearts in the central act of our worship, our Holy Eucharist.
The word “Eucharist” is Greek for “thanksgiving,” as indeed our Eucharist is a prayer offered in thanks for everything God has given us.
In our prayer of Holy Eucharist, we remember God’s gift of creation, we remember our place in creation, and we remember that God came to us as a human being, as Jesus Christ.
We remember his last supper on the night before he died, we remember he suffered and died on the Cross as one of us, and we remember how he rose again to fill the universe with love, grace and healing.
And we remember how he is with us still.
At the Lord’s Table, we are bold to say the prayer he taught us to pray. We ask the Father – Abba, in the Aramaic language of Jesus – to give us the bread that will sustain us, the strength to forgive others – and the strength to forgive ourselves.
We pray God will shroud us from trials that might break us, and keep at bay evil that might overwhelm us.
Our prayers are more than just words.
Prayer is about listening – listening deeply to God stirring within us as individuals and as a community. It is why we call it “Common” prayer – not because our prayers are common, but because we pray in common together.
Our prayers come in our music, and in our silence; our prayers are what we see with visual symbols like the Cross or these windows,
And our prayers are in what we taste and smell in the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist.
We pray with all our senses. We pray with our whole being, not just our intellect.
Even our financial gifts are a prayer.
When we present our gifts in church, we don’t call it a “collection.”
Maybe other churches call their donations collections, but we don’t – and for very good reason.
We call our financial gifts an “offering,” because our giving is a prayerful offering of thanks. We appropriately present our offering at the Lord’s Table in our Holy Eucharist.
We bless our offering of money with our offering of bread and wine as symbols of the first fruit of our labor.
God created us to pray. Healing itself begins in the heart of our prayer.
Today in the biblical lessons we hear stories of healing rooted deeply in prayer – and these are no small stories.
In Job, who has suffered mightily, we hear about how his fortunes have been restored and his ailments cured. He is given 14,000 sheep – that’s lot of sheep – and ten more children.
The psalm proclaims thanksgiving for healing: “I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me and saved me from all my troubles.”
In the gospel lesson from Mark, we hear this extraordinary story of Bartimaeus who is practically screaming his prayer at Jesus to have his sight restored.
And so Jesus hears him, and his sighted is restored.
There are more stories of Jesus healing people than any other kind of stories in the gospels.
Yet we also know that Job and all his children will fade away, and the man who has regained his sight will lose it once again at the end of his life.
It is tempting to hear these stories as fairy tales or as metaphors.
But I would suggest hearing these stories through the ears of the prayers that ring through eternity.
These stories are true because healing, in its very deepest sense, like the gift of life itself, is true beyond our mortal bodies.
Healing in its deepest sense is more than just about our mortal bodies that we know will fade away. Resurrection truly will come bringing with it infinite healing forever.
Healing is more than about us as individuals. It is about the healing of all humanity and the healing of the planet itself from the pollution and degradation we have caused.
Healing truly begins with prayer.
Our prayers for healing are not called to be small, and our actions are not called to be small. Our actions must be big because the gift of our life is big.
A friend of mine, Stephen Charleston, the retired bishop of Alaska, puts it far better than I can. Let me end by reading you what he says:
“You are here for a reason, a reason that is defined not only by the work you do, but by the life you lead.
“You are a connecting point for the sacred, a living channel through which streams of grace flow, flow out into the world, into the reality of the people you meet, into the world you help to create simply by your presence.
“You are a signal, a messenger who lives the message, who embodies the meaning of the holy in every choice you make.
“You are a healer, a source of nurture and wholeness, here for a reason, a reason that restores the bridge of hope.”
Dear friends, may all of our prayers ring through eternity and may you be filled with faith, hope and charity forever. AMEN