I found myself sitting in a room of faith-filled women, who (with the exception of one) were all more than twenty years my senior, many twice that. It was a reading group, and the book that was being discussed was on the topic of aging (Joan Chittister’s The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully). I don’t spend much time thinking about this topic (truth be told, I’m pretty happy about the gray hairs I’ve been finding on my own head), and though I’m sure I could spend a lot of time talking about intergenerational community just from this one-hour meeting, I’m more interested in something else: twenty-five minutes of that sixty-minute meeting were spent sharing prayer requests and praying.
I’m not exaggerating; I looked at my watch when we cracked open the book for the first time, and it was 7:25. For twenty-five minutes, these women updated each other on requests from previous weeks, and they shared new health concerns, family concerns, community concerns, as well as exciting “praises”–Fulbright fellowships earned, graduations commenced, quick recoveries from surgeries with little pain medication needed. I sat and watched all of this, the encouragement for each other as well as the support, the tears shed when bad news–or good news–was shared.
I have always been suspicious of sharing prayer requests in group settings, and I’m pretty sure that prayer chains are Christian stand-ins for the “heard it through the grape vine” gossiping found outside the church. Sharing your own concern is one thing; sharing other people’s? Well, I’ve never been to sure about that one.
But here’s the weird thing. While I still think that the temptation to gossip is certainly everpresent, I’m beginning to realize that prayer lists, prayer chains, prayer meetings–however you do it or whatever you call it–these are the way community happens, maybe the only way it happens. And not just because of the “power of prayer,” that is, not just because we are praying for each other, but because we have to know what’s going on in the life of the community in order to live in community.
Wednesday night I found myself smack in the middle of a roomful of shared lived experience. And it was a room full of community.