October 16, 2022, Sermon preached by Rev. Katie Holicky

10/16/22     The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector 

During my third year of seminary I realized that something was missing for me. To be honest I was still running from those hounds of heaven calling me to ordained ministry and I was grasping for straws trying to envision what my professional life would look like after graduation. Then, I heard about this amazing program in Boston that trains folks over the course of nine months to be interfaith spiritual directors. So I prayed and realized that was it! I knew in an instant that part of what I was feeling was a deep call to be trained as an interfaith Spiritual Director. For those of you who don’t have much experience with Spiritual Direction, it is a space where someone accompanines you along your spiritual journey through once a month or so sessions. 

A good spiritual director reflects and mirrors back to you, affirms you, and asks really good open ended questions that help you to draw answers out from yourself. It relies on the truth that each of us have all we need for the journey, it is the empire of the world that tries time and time again to convenience us otherwise. It is a deep space for discernment, reflection, and growth. So much so, that clergy in our tradition are expected to be in relationship with a spiritual director so that we may be supported in these ways. 

I quickly fell in love with this work and realized I make a pretty good spiritual director. So, I completed this program in addition to my full time studies and many part time jobs. In doing so, I gained not only a certification that would give me some professional clout, I also gained many pastoral skills that have and continue to serve me well. Before coming to be with you all full time, I spent a few years building up my own practice here in Maine. It was a deep gift to walk with folks in this very particular way. While I do not currently run my private practice, it is something I dream of returning to one day. 

And here is something that really surprised me in this work; for my first few years as a practitioner at least half of my clients would start the journey with the hope of learning how to pray. Everytime I heard this I was taken aback. Not just because folks felt uneasy with prayer, especially praying out loud, but because they knew it to be so important and meaningful they sought out help so that they might grow in the practice of prayer. 

And yes, prayer is indeed super freaking important and meaningful! If you read my article in this past Friday’s email you will have noted a quote from one of our kindergartners reflecting on God’s abundance in our community. She said, “There is a lot of love and grace here and I like that we have a lot of prayer because prayer always makes me feel good. I am glad we pray together so much!” From the lips of babes. And she is on to something, and there is science to back this up. I came across an article in a psychological science journal about studies done on the impacts of spiritual prayer. To name the difference, they note “spiritual prayer” as being something like sitting in the notion that ‘God is love’, and “secular prayer” as reflecting or meditating on the notion of ‘love’. 

In one study, it was noted that prayer has many positive impacts that are similar to the benefits of meditation; “ It can calm your nervous system, shutting down your fight or flight response. It can make you less reactive to negative emotions and less angry.”(psychologicalscience.org). Prayer is also helpful in relationships. Scientists have studied the impacts of prayer in marriages and have found that couples who pray for one another, especially when upset or irritated with each other, tend to have healthier relationships because of the previously mentioned positive impacts: less reactive, calming of the nervous system etc. (psychologicalscience.org). Prayer takes the edge off. 

As I read this Gospel story I felt my heart warm as these words washed over me, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (NRSV Bible). Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and doing all he can to prepare his disciples to carry on this ministry after he dies. He needs folks to understand how important prayer is in this new context of faith and so he shares this parable that draws on themes of persistence and resistance. Even at the first glance we can clearly see the persistent woman who has nothing and always gets a “raw deal”. She is marginalized, and yet she persisted. And we have the greedy politician, the judge, who resists doing what is just, and finally gives in only because he is sick of being bothered.

And these themes touch our hearts more personally too as it reflects persistence and resistance in our relationships with God. God is persistent in their love of us, just as the woman is in seeking justice. One of the commentaires reflects that, “In a way, the widow in Jesus’ parable represents not only the need to pray always, as Luke puts it, but also the Spirit’s incessant work of encouraging us to pray, the Spirit’s nagging persistence and unrelenting perseverance” (FOTW, 192). 

This persistence is part of our trust that our God is a God who deeply cares not just for us in love, but also in justice. We can trust that God hears us crying out in prayer even if we don’t quickly see evidence of that. In this parable God is named as the one who grants justice. Meaning, “God’s love is not only persistent, but also just. The central event of God’s loving justice and just love in Christ’s cross and resurrection reveals not only God’s resistance against individual sin, but also God’s powerful resistance against the unjust powers that be, an act of resistance that has already changed our world, even though it might be hard for us to detect at times” (FOTW, 192).

We are to be persistent and relentless in our prayer and seeking out God and so the reign of God. Luise Schttroff  writes to this point saying, “Praying and crying to God against injustices describes the whole life of the believers: their efforts, their protests against injustice. It describes also their trust in God, for they know that God acts very differently than the unjust judge” (FOTW). 

Friends, there is a lot to pray for these days. It can be daunting to consider all of the things and situations that need our prayer. And the Good News today is that part of our embodied and lived out faith is prayer. Prayer is a key way in which we proclaim hope in and the hope of God. It is how we call God into every aspect of our lives and do so with trust and hope. It is part of how we don’t lose heart. Prayer is the one thing we can always do for ourselves, each other, and the life of the world no matter what. No matter where we are or what we are doing we have the power to pray and in doing so get to be co-creators in the ever present reign of God. Prayer that laments of injustice and cries out for justice is part of actively bringing the reign of God into the present. It is how we claim that God is right here right now and not some far off distance being that we must wait and wait and wait for. I found this statement in my research this week: “…we must remember that our prayers do not constitute so many unanswered pleas; rather, they are our participation in the coming reign of God. By praying continually, and not giving up hope, we live in the surety that God has not abandoned this world. Living in hope, we work, in whatever ways we can, for the justice and peace that is coming” (FOTW, 190). Prayer helps to spur us to action! 

As we examine the last line where Jesus wonders if there will be believers when the Son of Man returns, we must claim that if we are to be among the faithful at that time… we have got to pray. Period. So, what might your prayer look and feel like? When might you practice this connection to God and so to God moving in the world? My prayer for each of us, is that we hold fast to the words that we “need to pray always and not to lose heart” (NRSV). May it be so. 
Resources: Feasting on the Word, NRSV Bible, psychologicalscience.org/news/the-science-of-prayer-2.html