When I was a little kid and broke my arm, all my friends at school signed my cast, and I thought that was really cool. The more signatures the better. It also provided some comfort to look at all the names there, some with little notes or drawings. It cheered me up to feel like my friends were somehow with me, that I had their companionship and well-wishes as I dealt with the physical pain and emotional bummer of being a little kid with a broken arm. A cast is a stark physical image of wounded-ness, of brokenness, but those signatures transformed it into an image of loving care.
I was un-churched at the time so I had little concept of prayer, but having those signatures and decorations on my cast was my first experience of what it is like to be prayed for. An important piece, for me, is that sense of connection and companionship, of not being lonely in my distress. The pain and struggles of life bring with them the threat of isolation. When we pray for one another, our names are written on one another’s hearts, both the hearts of the one praying and the one being prayed for. Like signatures on a cast, that is with us constantly in all times and places. Prayer transcends time and space and connects us in a bond that even pain and death cannot break. Relationship is life-giving, and it matters when we are in trouble. The Holy Spirit weaves the fabric of our relationships together in those un-breakable bonds, and part of her work is calling us to prayer.
The Bible gives us the image of the Word of God written on our hearts. God’s Word is God’s will for us, God’s way, God’s hope and desire, and nothing less than that with which God creates and gives life. God’s Word made flesh is Jesus Christ, and in baptism we are “Sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” God imprints God’s mark on our hearts, like a signature on a cast. It cannot be destroyed or erased. Praying is how we live into that relationship, how we claim what God has given to us. Part of the gift that God has given us is the hope of loving relationship with one another. Indeed, we cannot be in right relationship with God without loving one another. Prayer is part of what that looks and feels like, our names written on one another’s hearts.
Praying has the power to transform us, whether we are praying for someone else or someone is praying for us. Because it is claiming the gift and living into the reality that God’s Word – that with which God creates and gives life – is imprinted upon the depths of our being, prayer shapes us and forms us in that image, the very image of Christ. We open ourselves to God every time we pray. This is true even if it is a prayer of anger, argument, or despair directed towards God. In the Psalms we see even the prayers of anger and despair transformed by God into praise and thanksgiving. And thus our souls are transformed through prayer in the image of Love, for love. Like those signatures on the cast, even the places of our brokenness can become places where we are marked with love.