Sunday, June 13, 2004

Prayer book is a 'conversation with us'

Click here to e-mail Cliff
MOUNT AUBURN - Christ Hospital uses lots of strong medicine. But the oldest and possibly most potent healing power comes from a red vinyl, three-ring binder in the Mount Auburn landmark's chapel.

Cradled on a display case in the foyer of the first-floor colonial-style sanctuary, the binder holds page after page of handwritten requests for prayers.

They are written in emotion-gripped penmanship. In words simple, but eloquent, they ask for help from above.

"Dear Lord, please give me the strength and faith of the mustard seed."

"Lord, take care of my mother as she starts a new round of chemo. Keep her tucked under you wings."

"Dear Lord, help me to provide good care to my patients today."

The same page can carry consecutive requests spanning the seasons of life, from winter to spring.

"He has gone to a better place, please pray for his wife and children."

"Pray for my newborn twins, keep them healthy and safe."

Rev. Douglas Mitchell
(Michael E. Keating photo)
The idea for the prayer book belongs to the Rev. Douglas Mitchell, Christ's director of pastoral care.

In 1988, his fourth year at the hospital, he found himself having trouble keeping up with the sheer volume of prayer requests.

"Numerous people were calling or leaving messages around the place," he said.

Requests were written on scraps of paper, notebook pages and patients' charts.

"We needed to have something like the book," he said, "and a promise we would pray over it."

Next to the book, a sign makes that promise. Mitchell detailed how it's kept.

Anyone can make a request. Patients, visitors, nurses, doctors, staffers, neighbors.

Most of the requests are anonymous and ask for good health. That's understandable. God knows who's praying. These prayer requests range from the specific to the general.

"Lord, help him heal from heart disease and bypass surgery. For all those with heart disease, we pray for all of their surgeons."

Along with the rest of the hospital's chaplains, Mitchell says daily prayers over the well-used, three-ring binder. On Sunday and Thursday night services, the book goes into the chapel. Requests are read from the pulpit.

When he reads the prayers, Mitchell is struck "by the real depth of faith" on two levels.

"One, the requests are a conversation with us. For the most part, they begin 'please pray.' "

"Please pray for a cure for cancer."

"Please pray for my 8-year-old grandson who has the flu ... also my husband with cancer all over. He's been here five weeks."

Mitchell believes these requests are "written in the belief that somebody they don't know is going to be there for them and will be joining with them in prayer."

The second level of belief he noticed concerns "the depth of faith in God. This is an open book. They will put anything down there. There's no holding back."

This year's book contains current events.

"Please pray for Matt Maupin, the solder that has been captured."

Career plans.

"Please pray that my nephew passes the N.Y. bar exam."

And car talk.

"Help us to find another transportation because our car has worn down and won't start anymore."

There's the poignant hope for a family reunion. Before it's too late.

"Please pray for the lung cancer not to leave him in despair. Pray that his son will come to see him and reconcile their differences."

A request is filled.

"Before coming here I met three young black men just released from jail. They asked for money. I truly had none. Not even 50 cents. The young man who had first approached me then asked if I would pray for them on their way."

And thanks given.

"I thank you for answering my prayers from seven years ago when I was working here and coming here to pray every day."

On Wednesdays, one visitor always leaves the same request.

"Pray for the end of war and terrorism and the scandal in the church."

Every week, Mitchell reads this request. He hopes that someday it will be answered - just like every other prayer in the book.

Power of prayer

A government study, released in May, found the top form of alternative medicine is prayer. It was used by 43 percent of the study's 31,000 subjects.

In a 2003 survey of 130 studies on healing, Dr. Larry Dossey, former journal editor of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, found that many of the studies involved prayer.

"Not to employ prayer with my patients," the doctor concluded, "was the equivalent of withholding a potent drug or surgical procedure."



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