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Department: Christian Ethics

Prayers from the Cauldron

Fowler, Marsha D.

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doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000762
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The news coming from all directions of nursing—journals, letters to editors, communiques from international and national nursing organizations, state associations, unions is harsh. Day-to-day life is difficult with home schooling, a lack of childcare, the dangerous nature of shopping for family necessities, and inability to see friends. At work there are high patient loads, a lack of personal protective equipment, and families barred from seeing loved ones while work is both high demand and high anxiety. This is compounded by worry about becoming infected and taking the virus home to loved ones. And there is more. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. All of this is within a cauldron of uncertainty, ambiguity, and worry. Living at a full rolling boil, it is easy to forget how to breathe, let alone how hungry our spirits become.

Simone Weil writes of that hunger. Weil was a philosopher from an agnostic Jewish family and a complex figure. At age 25, she began to move into Christianity and, in a series of religious experiences, moved deeper and deeper into a profound and consuming love of God and service to humankind. She died at 34, some have said of self-starvation, though this is disputed (Weil, 1977, pp. xxxviii, 8). Weil (2018) wrote:

The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread. It goes on crying just the same. The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry. It can only persuade itself of this by lying, for the reality of its hunger is not a belief, it is a certainty. (p. 61)

For Weil, that hunger was fed by prayer and love of God expressed through prayer. In the crush of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to simply press on with the rush of life, ignoring our spiritual hunger, perhaps even denying that it exists. But with all there is to do, how do we acknowledge our spiritual hunger and take time to pray?

On days when quiet times of prayer seem a luxury, there are other ways to pray that can keep us connected and in communication with God throughout the day and feed our hunger in ways that can keep us centered. Though there are many traditions of prayer, the Prayer of 100 Blessings and the Arrow Prayer are two useful ways to pray throughout the day, yet not be deterred from the journey of the day.

PRAYER OF 100 BLESSINGS

Rabbi Dannel Schwartz (1966) told the story of Mordechai whom he met at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Schwartz was leading a group and speaking in English, so Mordechai, overhearing him, tapped him on the shoulder and asked him where he was from.

When I told him, a glowing smile spread across his face. His uncle came from the same place. He asked me to recite the traditional blessing that marked coincidence. When I did, he said, “Amen.”

When I told him I was a rabbi...he informed me that this was his lucky day. To meet a rabbi from the same place as his uncle was so fortunate that he felt compelled to recite the blessing spoken upon meeting a scholar. And I, of course, said “Amen.” After I answered each question from Mordechai...he responded with a blessing, and I with an amen.

When I ran into Mordechai several days later, I asked him about all those blessings... “You see, I believe that God records every blessing that every one of us ever speaks. All God has to do is count how many blessings I've said and how many times I've made others realize the coincidental blessings in their lives. In this way, I can't miss being with the Holy one in eternity.”

“You see, my rabbi,” he continued with reverence and that wonderful smile, “the one with the most ‘amens’ in the end wins.” (pp. 28-30)

Jewish blessings are as numerous as the stars of the sky! There are blessings for all manner of pleasurable experiences like foods, fragrances, a cool breeze on a hot day, on performing one of the commandments, in praise of God, on seeing the majesty and wonder of creation. Schwartz continues:

Jewish tradition gives us a goal: We should say one hundred blessings each day. When we try it, we discover that it's quite difficult to find one hundred things each day for which to be thankful. So difficult, in fact, that we spend most of our time looking. In the course of looking, we find many things worth noting that might have otherwise passed us by. That's the goal. The practiced eye sees far more than the lazy one.

Blessings generally begin with the words, “Blessed are you, O Lord, who...” (for example) gives us the wonders of a starry-night sky. (Those who overhear the blessing respond with “Amen.”) The point is to attempt to run out of easy blessings so that you have to struggle to see the wonders of God's participation in everyday life. Even in the busiest of days, it takes but a moment to add another blessing within your day. Count your blessings, name them one by one...

ARROW PRAYERS

The ancient arrow prayer is a very short prayer, a phrase or a sentence only, usually taken from Scripture, often from the Psalms. These prayers are characteristically in praise of God or seek God's help. You can choose one to use the whole day in accord with your needs for that day or choose several to use throughout the day. Arrow prayers are little more than a heartbeat in length.

  • You, O Lord, are a shield around me (Psalm 3:3).
  • I will give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 9:1).
  • I love you, O Lord, my strength (Psalm 18:1).
  • The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness (Psalm 18:28).
  • Blessed be the Lord (Psalm 31:21).
  • Sing to God, sing praises to his name (Psalm 68:4).
  • Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
  • Hallowed be your name (Matthew 6:9).
  • Ask and you shall receive (Matthew 7:7).

Arrow prayers remind us that God is near, that help is at hand, that we are cared for no matter the trials and demands of the day.

PRAYER AS AN ETHICAL REQUIREMENT

Prayer helps feed the hungry soul. It also touches upon at least two aspects of ethics. First, prayer is a part of care for one's self, as a part of duties to self, as expressed in the fifth provision of the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (American Nurses Association [ANA], 2015). The second ethical issue is alluded to in the words of the last verse of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (Robinson, 1798):

Oh, to grace how great a debtorDaily I'm constrained to beLet Thy goodness like a fetterBind my wandering heart to TheeProne to wander, Lord, I feel itProne to leave the God I loveHere's my heart, oh, take and seal itSeal it for Thy courts above.

The history of humankind is a history of a human propensity toward tyranny and idolatry. Our hearts are indeed prone to wander—into an autonomy that is self-seeking. However, God calls Christians to be theonomous, that is, to autonomously give their wills to God's direction so that we might serve God's glory, our joy, and our neighbor's good. Every prayer our hearts utter binds the hungry heart to God, the Fount. In the crazy-busy days of nursing care, forms of prayer that are crisp and concise can sustain, nourish, and center us in ways that can be folded into the relentless movement of the day.

FOR REFLECTION:...

  • How hungry would you say your spirit is at this time? What spiritual foods nourish you?
  • Can you think of at least 10 blessings to offer to God right now?
  • Why is prayer an ethical requirement for Christian nurses?

References

American Nurses Association. (2015). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements. American Nurses Association.
Robinson R. (1798). Come, thou fount of every blessing. Public domain.
Schwartz D. I. (1966). Finding joy: A practical guide to happiness. Jewish Lights.
Weil S. (1977). In G. A. Panichas (Ed.), Simone Weil reader. David McKay Company.
Weil S. (2018). Love in the void: Where God finds us. Plough Publishing House.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship