Years ago I was given a prayer practice that I use when I am afraid.
It feels like 100 years ago now; I was given this prayer that has become a life-gift. I was making a pastoral visit before one of our older members went for surgery. He and his wife were anxious, even I could feel it when I got to hospital early in the morning. For what seemed like a long time in the pre-op room, he led us in small talk. I had gotten up in the wee hours to be with them beforehand, and I was wondering if I was just there to listen to some of his storytelling (which wasn’t a bad thing). After the nurse had been standing with us for a couple of minutes, his wife declared, “Come on, we might as well let her pray.”
And there it was.
I remember looking into their eyes, both of them. They were active and vital church members. I’d known them to go above and beyond in leadership positions, both of them retired clergy themselves. When there was suddenly quiet in the room and the only thing heard was our breathing, I felt time stand still. I was aware of our collective vulnerability and mortality. It’s not an easy thing to have surgery. I felt all three of us (and maybe even the patiently waiting nurse) were grateful that the small talk had run dry. “Come on, we might as well let her pray.”
My memory is that I said something like this to him: “Well now, they’ve taken your watch, your shoes, your glasses, they’ve even taken your pants. But you know they haven’t taken everything. You’ve still got your important parts.” I took his right hand and asked him to open his hand with his palm up. I told him that I believed that God was there in the center, in the palm of his hand. God had always been right there in the center, his whole life. And then I asked him to think of five people who loved him unconditionally. I told him that each of those loved ones were represented by the fingers. Then I told him to open and close his hand as he was being wheeled into surgery and think about those people that he knew loved him. I said that that every time he closed his hand and held on, he would know that those five people were holding on to him. “And every time you close your hand, you know that God is in the center holding on tighter than anybody else.”
He looked at me and nodded, and I knew that in that moment I had received the highest of affirmations. Then he kissed his wife, turned to the nurse and said, “OK, let’s go.”
This holding on prayer has been a strong and grace-filled companion for many years now. I’ve had a couple surgeries and know firsthand (pardon the pun) that it has brought me comfort and strength as I've been wheeled down a long hallway. It is for me, a physical knowing of God’s presence. Always with me, every time I hold on.