Thursday, September 22, 2005

Playing God 4

If you have been following the story of these posts, you will remember that I had asked for enacted prayer on behalf of my grandson Robbie. Some of you will also know that Robbie has a considerable medical file compiled on his brief life.

In the beginning, his mother was told she would not carry him to term. Robbie confounded every expectation and made his entry into the world, last January 17. There was a preliminary diagnosis of I.U.G.R. (inter uterine growth retardation), a result of abruption of the placenta. He had survived to full term with about half the food supply a normal infant requires! He weighed a meagre 5 pounds and looked, for a full time baby, like a starved waif. Strong will in this little guy, right from the first. He was immediately hooked up to tubes for feeding, and wires for monitoring, and tucked into an incubator. Anxious start. But Robbie is nothing if not determined. And he was determined to live.

Additionally, Robbie had a small, common, birth anomaly which will be corrected by plastic surgery. However, the onset of asthma, this past spring, was very worrisome. At times he seemed so frail. It took multiple trips to the doctor, and several hospitalizations before a diagnosis was reached, and appropriate medication was prescribed. At the time of the enacted prayer, I was concerned that Robbie would once again be hospitalized, with all the attendant disruption of routine and deep concern which this would bring. That did not happen. He had a cold. He survived the cold. And he has gone on to have further sniffles without hospitalization. He has even hatched two razor sharp teeth.

I came home expecting to hear more good news about Robbie. Perplexity. Robbie's mother burst into tears as she told me that he had been diagnosed with yet another health concern. For months, she had been trying to get his doctors to take notice of the way he held his head, and the shape of his head. They delivered platitudes. "His head shape will improve over time." "Just let time pass. This will correct itself." I had been with his mother on several occasions when her concerns were minimized or dismissed. Now, she informed me that the condition had been noted as 'serious,' and physiotherapy and occupational therapy prescribed. It even had a name. Torticollis. Wry Neck. Should these mechanical manipulations not correct the condition, Robbie would have to undergo surgery to release his neck muscles, with possible cranial-facial surgery in years to come.

How was this an answer to the enacted prayer, I wondered? I felt a little deflated, but I was not dismayed. A general feeling of calm continued when I saw Robbie himself. Over the ten days I had been away, he had grown. His head looked better to me already. He was beginning to hold it up straighter. He was trying to sit up. Over a two week time period, his parents worked with him on his exercises. We all played rigorously with him to stimulate his awareness of the left side of his body. His strength steadily increased. On one memorable afternoon, he rolled efficiently to the left. Excited by the discovery of a new skill in his repetoire. he continued to roll to the left about ten more times in succession.

It was clear, that on his second trip to the psysiotherapist, he had outstripped her every expectation. He was sitting better and displaying awareness of his need to adjust balance to prevent himself from falling over. He was swimming all over the mat, moving confidently to find toys. The therapist had trouble keeping her jaw from dropping open as Robbie displayed his exponential development.

This has continued. Within a few more days he was trying to pull himself up to sitting from a recumbent position. This afternoon he made several successful attempts at this while sitting on my knee. When he accomplishes anything, he flings himself down to repeat the process and solidify his learning. I may be his Nana, but believe me he is SMART. He is almost fanatically determined to exercise his body.

Now I am not so naive spiritually as to suppose that Robbie's development would have continued to be delayed, had I not asked for enacted prayer on his behalf. Things would have unfolded in much the same way. I do not worship a God who is stingy in blessing because I weak in asking. But enacted prayer gave me eyes to see the miracle. Yes, even the miracle of the diagnosis of Torticollis. Just in time. Thank God, a diagnosis in time for exercises to have some effect.

Miracles happen every day. We only notice them when we are aware. We only remember to be thankful when we are aware. Otherwise, we go through life with a sense of entitlement and a hardness of heart which resents the normal maladies which afflict us all as human beings. Our constant bleat is "Why?" Why God? Why me? As if somehow, because we are believers we should be exempt from every suffering. But believing that God has the best interests of his children at heart is a step of faith. I think that we need this kind of faith most especially when we are tempted to despair. I think we need that kind of faith when faced with 'one more thing.'

She who has ears to hear, let her hear. He who has eyes to see, let him see. Jesus said that. I believe that enacted prayer allowed me to see my daughter and her husband and children prophetically, as God sees them. Whole, standing strong, eyes heavenward. This prophesy has helped me grasp the miracles which are moving them to this place of wholeness, despite fleeting contrary indications.

This week we made a second pilgrimage to Toronto's famous Hospital for Sick Children, affectionately known the world over as 'Sick Kids.' I fully expected the surgeon to say that Robbie was still not big and strong enough to undergo his plastic surgery. Lack of faith? Or a way of protecting myself from disappointment? Perhaps.

Robbie has more than tripled his birth weight. He squirmed and wriggled all over the examining table. He arched his back. He protested at being immobilized for examination. He is ready. His surgery is booked for January 10, 2006. Will you pray? Will you enact the healing in your minds. Visualize it. See it as true. A good result. No complications. Calmness amongst us adults. Quick healing.

Every day is another miracle day with Robbie. Since the enacted prayer, his mother switched him to soy milk formula and his mucous secretions are decreased, which helps his breathing and decreases the tendency for asthma attacks!! To night he sat up in a high chair at the table for family dinner and had mashed up squash and carrots just like the rest of us. His two baby teeth were unequal to the corn. He looked so proud of himself. "See me. See me."

We see you. We see you, Robbie. A strong young man with a bright mind and a sensitive heart, open to all the possibilities of the Spirit and living by Faith.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Playing God 3

So it was, that the inimitable Rich Swingle introduced the concept of enacted prayer to the entire student body and faculty at the School for Music and Gospel Arts. For the first demonstration of enacted prayer, Rich would 'play God'. I had an intuitive sense that what would follow would be similar to psychodrama or sociodrama, something I was familiar with in my work. I was intensely interested.

Rich called for a prayer request. I felt an immediate inner response. I had just received news from home that my grandson Robbie, then seven months old, had once again been to the doctor's with an asthma attack and that his parents were taking him to hospital. I wanted prayer. I wanted it with urgency. I tried to hold myself back, feeling that this special prayer must surely be for one of the students. But when no one immediately leapt to his/her feet, I was catapulted out of my seat. I sprang into the pool of blessing.

Rich elicited information from me about my prayer request. I told about Robbie's fragile start to life and his asthma. Rich called for one of the faculty children to come up and play Robbie. A young girl came and was positioned in a lying pose at the front of the stage. Drama students volunteered to be Robbie's parents. Another faculty child came forward to play Robbie's four year old sister. It became clear that each person in this little family had special need for prayer. Then Rich called for someone to play illness. Rich asked 'illness' to put his foot gently on 'Robbie's' chest. And finally, someone was asked to play me. This was something I hadn't anticipated. My niece Kathryn came forward, eyes shining and full of compassion. I knew, of all the people in the room, no one could understand my heart more keenly than Kathryn and no one would play me better. It was a special moment for both of us as our eyes met across the width of the stage.

Rich prayed briefly that God would be in the enacted prayer. I sat to one side of the stage, my back against a pillar. The enacted prayer began. Everyone slowly moved into their roles. It was evident from their postures that Robbie's parents were sad and felt helpless. Robbie looked so frail. His little sister looked lost in the midst of something which was huge and overwhelming. Kathryn, playing me, went around trying to hold up everyone. She lifted Robbie's head, without success. She tried to raise the arms of Robbie's parents. Their arms fell back helplessly at their sides.

Tears began to roll down my cheeks unbidden. I wasn't sobbing. I made no sound. Tears just fell as I recognized the ways in which I try to hold up everyone in my family, not just those represented on the stage. Others too. The whole multigenerational mass. My own helplessness to effect change was apparent. As my tears fell, I let go of my need to control any outcome. This was beyond me.

God moved into the scene. Kathryn, playing me, took Robbie's sister out of the family group to one side and entertained her, while God worked with Robbie and his parents. First, he banished 'illness.' He removed the heavy foot from off Robbie's chest and cast illness away. He assessed the helplessness of Robbie's parents. He blessed them. He loved them. He nurtured them. He lifted their eyes and their arms toward heaven. When they themselves were strong, they were able to attend to Robbie. They stooped down to where Robbie lay, to sit by him, cradle him and love him. I felt the tension of the situation release. I felt calmness and peace. Kathryn, playing me, restored Robbie's sister to the family group. They stood closely, mutually supported, as a unit, undivided by illness, serene and whole.

The picture of my little family as portrayed on stage by this group of relative strangers was intensely touching. Powerful. I could hear people sniffing back tears from all over the large auditorium. Otherwise, there was not a single sound. The word Amen was spoken. And Rich sealed what had happened with a brief spoken prayer.

Now I don't know about you, but for me, when I have been deeply affected by God's Spirit, my mind gets very large. I see potential. I feel enlightenment. My mind is large enough to possess possibilities, but it is also numbed in some way. Regular talking, walking and even thinking are difficult. I stumbled back to my seat. I think some people hugged me. The service swirled on around me. I have no idea what else went on. I was in a different place.

And a different place was where I remained for the rest of the week. As a matter of fact, I am still resting in that special spot. Sacred space. Mercifully, mobility, speech and thinking capacity returned to me.
1.) I functioned at a high level troughout the week, and was able to be present to many different people in many different ways.
2.) I was absolutely released from responsibilty for things at home. When I placed a check in phone call to each of my daughters, they were unavailable to talk. I got my sons-in-law instead. I took it as an indication that things were well in control without me. I didn't have to hold everyone up.
3.) God's Spirit rested on me in a unique way. I felt nudged by the Spirit. Say yes. Say no. Do this. Do that. Don't do that. Try this. Say that. Don't say that. This immediate, constant, unhesitating sense of the presence of God in a minute by minute way was quite new to me.
4.) After a lifetime of wrestling with God, like Jacob at Peniel, I carried in my body a wound, but I felt continually touched by blessing. This was the prayer I had carried in my heart for years. I had sung it, pleaded and bargained for it. Demanded it. "I will not let You go until you bless me." A lifetime of this prayer. And now, in this strange way, when I asked for prayer for someone else, this blessing came. This was intimacy with God, not totally unfamiliar, but fresh and new.

So that was the first and perhaps the most profound answer to the enacted prayer. But there's more to follow.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Playing God 2

Imagine the most energetic, postive thinking and committed Christian you know. Multiply that energy by two. Package it in a slight, masculine, athletic frame. Top it with an expressive, deeply sensitive, strong boned and often willfully clownish face, slightly receding hair and an invisible halo. You've got Rich Swingle, a New York actor and playwright. Rich brought his love, his talents, prayers and energies for a second time this year to the School for Music and Gospel Arts at Jackson's Point.

Rich played St. John in an amazing one man interpretation of the book of Revelation. Neatly avoiding the usual eschatological and didactic pitfalls, Rich rendered a portrayal of John's vision on the Isle of Patmos which captivated us and set us to thinking about the power of prayer, the purpose of life, the meaning of vision, the grace and love and yes, JUDGMENT of God.

Rich also played God. He taught others to play God. You read that right. Rich played God. Not for Rich the wry comedic style of George Burns or imaginative dialogues of Bill Cosby. Rich's turn as God came as he used the tool of enacted prayer to discern the heart of God. Drama students and faculty children supported Rich as he addressed our prayer concerns. Taking roles as family members, ill friends and relatives, victims of hurricane Katrina, aid workers, pastors, youth leaders and so on, the students mimed oppression, illness and distress. Rich or a designated student 'played God', moving to embrace, to heal, to comfort, to encourage, to embolden, to relieve, to sustain, to uphold, to release. I cannot find words to describe how utterly moving enacted prayer was. But I can tell you how this kind of prayer touched my life, and freed me up to do my real work at the school. I'll tell you about that in my next post.

While I'm gathering my courage for that, take a look at Rich's blog sites, his itinerary, his prayer blog and other bits by clicking on the title of this post. Rich is out west on a three week tour and will be doing enacted prayer with survivors of hurricane Katrina in Denver, Colorado. If you read back through Rich's posts you'll find pictures of students at this fabulous camp and the story of how I woke Rich up on the morning of the last day to tell him what enacted prayer had meant to me.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Playing God 1

I've been away from blogging for a bit. Been working with a staggeringly energetic and talented group of young adults at The Salvation Army School for Music and Gospel Arts at Jackson's Point, Sutton, Ontario. Over the next few posts I want to share some of the things I experienced. I will be writing about prayer and the power of prayer and healing.

A lot of praying of one kind and another went on at this camp. Students prayed scripture in the Jewish manner, all at once and in full voice while circling around the auditorium. Faculty and students prayed, sang, worshipped, praised. Some leapt up and down, danced, did cartwheels and flips. Others drew prayers. Some lay prostrate before God. Others knelt in the traditional pose of worship, heart lower than head and arms outstretched. Hands were an important accompaniment to prayer. Hands raised. Hands clapping. Hands cupped. Hands joined. And feet were important too. Sandled. Sneakered. Feet in need of a good wash. Manicured feet. Whatever their condition, our feet were metaphorically bare, because we were standing on holy ground.

In the midst of all of this, on Wednesday evening, I met the mother of a girl who had been killed years before, in a tragic car accident in connection with the camp. We talked for some time before we found our common ground. My husband's cousin had been critically injured in the fiery crash which took her daughter's life. They had been best friends. I remember how we had received the news in helpless horror and were thrown to our knees. I remember not being able to find the words to pray. And now, twenty-six years later, this mother was eager to hear this year's crop of campers perform at the midweek festival. "It was a long time ago," she said simply.

I remember feeling guilty about not knowing how to pray at the time of the accident. Finally I wrote my feelings down. Now, I felt I was being given permission to pray without words. If one could jump up and down in prayer, march around in prayer, lie down in prayer, then groans, interpreted by God's Spirit, were acceptable prayer. This is what I wrote, somwhat defiantly, at the time of the accident:

I cannot pray with words.
I write with words,
I pray with sighs,
or thoughts
or faces.

Then I cannot be accused
of trying
to make up God's mind for Him
or of colouring prayer
with too much self.

And there are
times too terrible for tears.
A breath and heartbeat
suffice then
to bring Him near.

For P.H. C.K. Aug. 31, 1979

More on this topic to follow.