Over time, a spiritual director becomes your teacher. At first a listener, then a guide in prayer, a confidant, a sounding board, a source of support and encouragement. And then, somehow, a teacher -- not just in the usual sense of suggesting an approach or a question or a passage to pray with, not just via the usual means of that favorite spiritual direction phrase, "You might want to give some thought to..." -- but by way of coming to know you well enough, having listened intently to you over a long period of time, that he or she offers something that is exactly what you, as an individual, need to start hearing and learning right then. Sometimes it seems to happen unconsciously, on both sides of the equation.
A few weeks ago, my director sent me an email in response to something going on in my life (there's always something, right?) and ended by saying, "I'll be praying for you and with you."
I don't think I've ever heard anyone use that preposition there before, and I've been pondering it ever since.
What a wonderful thing to say. To do.
Don't get me wrong. Praying for someone is a good thing. But so often, when someone offers to pray for me, the prayer that emerges is theirs. Not mine. Not God's. There's a certain inescapable preesumptiveness there, which can be a very good thing indeed, but can also make it more rather than less difficult for you and God to be present to one another.
Someone praying with you, on the other hand -- what an arresting, moving, hopeful idea. Someone in solidarity with your longing for God's presence, with your struggles in discernment, with your hopes and your questions, with God's movement in your life.
This morning, as I was out walking, I tried very consciously to pray with, rather than for, the people who were on my mind. As I did, what bubbled to the surface was a very distinct awareness of the ways in which each of them encounter God, and how varied and multilayered God's approaches are. Of the seven people with whom I was specifically concerned, five of them do not, to my knowledge, believe in God in much of any way and two, being priests, are engaged rather intently with God all of the time. Not that that made any difference -- it merely highlighted the reality that God speaks in all kinds of ways to all kinds of people, regardless of the degree to which they are or are not consciously aware of it, and that by praying with them, we can see that in their lives. And then, gradually, the prayer becomes God's prayer with us -- which, I suppose, is what it has been all along -- and we discover that we are praying with God.
If you are reading this, perhaps you find the use of the preposition with in this context as striking as I do. Or perhaps not. But I think that I have started to learn something that is (to me, anyway) new and wonderful. I am much taken with this idea of praying with, instead of or in addition to for. And I'm very grateful that someone offered it just when I needed and was able to hear it.