Archie Smith on Pastoral Prayer

The message that comes across is that prayer is private and limited to satisfying immediate needs or personal wants. Very seldom do such prayers include a quest for love of neighbor and care for the perceived enemy. Only rarely do such prayers include justice in community. Only infrequently do present-day personal prayers include an embracing of mystery, self-examination, facing our illusions, or an earnest search for God’s will (and not our own) to be done in our inner and social or public lives.4 It is even more rare to pray on behalf of those who scheme to entrap or have already have wronged us. Prayers that are all about “me,” self-maintenance, and personal or private fulfillment typically neglect care for the world. The private and self-focused prayer is seldom about interpersonal responsibility, social and mental illness, or practices of forgiveness and wider justice. It seldom concerns all sorts and conditions of life. A wider sense of justice would include care for the natural environment and the strength to build up the beloved community (which includes the perceived enemy). Such is part of an ancient and ongoing conversation.

From Smith, A. (2018). Thoughts Concerning the Pastoral Prayer. Pastoral Psychology, 67(1), 85-97.

And What Do You Need?

My spiritual director has what feels like go-to questions. She’s too experienced to use go-to questions. In reality, she listens to me and to the Spirit and follows those cues.

Her questions hover with where I am. What they really show are the basic questions I keep needing to return to, revisit, and re-hear. They repeat because I’m still needing to hear them.

The particular question–because there are a few that occur to me in this way which I’ve scribbled into my soul over our eight years together–is “And, Michael, what do you need?”

I can hear the questions the way I can hear my breathing. Usually after running or exercising or working hard, I hear what’s been there, unacknowledged and unnoticed. I hear my breathing. The questions are like that. The longer I’m in direction the more this happens: I find Lucy’s words coming up. She is a means of grace in that way. God speaks through her to me. And I’ve been hearing that question. Michael, what do you need?

It turns all my energy, energy I often direct toward being good for others, ministering to others, caring for others in the church, home, and hospital–all that meaningful energy comes to me in a question. It’s hard to pay that kind of attention to yourself when you serve others. Until you have to. Sometimes you don’t realize you have to until it comes up in a good question.

So, here it is for us: what do you need?