There’s a thing I do whenever I’m the one leading the prayers of the people that I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about before, but it came up at lunch after church this past Sunday and I found myself expressing myself in this way:
I said, “I take deep theological exception to the word especially.”
Until that moment, I hadn’t fully realized how strongly I felt about it.Now that I’ve realized, of course I have to spill it out into a blog.
Those of you who don’t have a “prayers of the people” moment in your church service, this may not mean anything to you. But to those of you who do, please consider my argument.
Among the petitions, there is always the one that is a variation of, “We pray for all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit” and then we list the people in the congregation who are sick or otherwise hurting.
Of course, the word that links the petition and the list of names isespecially.
We pray for the sick, especially Joe, Maria, Juan, LaShell, Hannah, and Otto.
The thing I will do when I lead the prayers of the people is change especially to among us.
Because I have some issue with the notion of praying for all the suffering in the world but then asking God to give special attention to those we know. It’s like helping only those we love while letting people we don’t care for suffer. It’s not part of Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. If you help only those you like, how are you different from anyone else? We’re called to a different standard.
At the same time, it is absolutely meet, right, and salutary that we should pray for those we know, those who “belong to us” in that broad congregational way that we belong to each other. There is absolutely nothing wrong with praying for those in our midst, who we can call by name, and bring their concerns before God.
And so, I will pray, “We pray for all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, among us we pray for Joe, Maria, Juan, LaShell, Hannah, and Otto.” Because these people are among us and we belong to one another, of course it is right to pray for them in their time of need. It is also language that is expansive enough to include, as we will at my church, friends of ours who are not members or may not even live locally, but are dear to us, who “belong” to us, who are therefore “among us,” even at a distance.
It’s a subtle shift from asking God to give them priority among the suffering of the world. But, yes, I can be that picky about the language of the gathered people of God. I think it matters. I can see how you may think I’m being overly semantic about this and honestly, this is not a hill I’m willing to die on. I’m not going to make demands about this.
But I do ask that our prayer writers consider this. I do think precision in language matters, particularly when it’s the language allegedly of the an entire congregation. Do we pray especially for these people just because we know them? Or do we pray for those among us because we are given to each other to care for, including the spiritual care of praying? I believe how we consider these questions can shape how we think about ourselves and our mission to the world.
NEIL ELLIS ORTS is an author, playwright, and freelance writer, interested in the arts, religion, where those intersect, and where they don’t. He has a BFA in theater (Texas State University), an M.Div, (Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest), and an MA in interdisciplinary arts (Columbia College Chicago).
He’s written for OutSmart Magazine, Dance Studio Life, Dance Source Houston, The Christian Century, Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, and Living Lutheran. His novella, Cary and John, is available at parsonsporch.com or Amazon.com.