These past days have been very challenging to the way I pray. I have beloved ones in harm’s way, and I pray for their safety. And I am aware that thousands of others are in the same harm’s way, and I pray for them. I hold close some of those dear to my heart going through deep waters with health, economic and relationship issues. They are part of national and global systems which do not give them the support and the resources they need, so I am pressed to pray for them too. The captions on the day’s reporting don’t amuse, just depress even further. How do I pray? And I am coming up on a Big Birthday after a year of being bumped by things that slowed me down, another call to prayerfully re-imagine myself for the next stage!
I then remember an old Celtic prayer called the Caim Prayer, designed to be of use when nothing else–words, icons, intentions–don’t seem to be. The Lindisfarne Comunity of England suggests that I pray the following prayer while drawing a circle around myself, using the right index finger as I pray, symbolizing the encircling love of God:
Circle me, Lord,/ Keep comfort near/and discouragement afar./Keep peace within/ and turmoil out./ Amen.
This feels as if it could be a beginning, a centering of myself in the Mystery, finding a place to get my equilibrium, a place to stand, some equipoise. Then the community prayer book offers some alternative readings into which I can insert particular names and situations:
For the ones in the path of the hurricanes, those known to me and those unknown: Circle them, Lord./ Keep protection near/and danger afar.
For those facing the inexorable changes in the structure and systems in which they work: Circle them, Lord./Keep hope within, /keep despair without.
For the one who is navigating complicated medical procedures and diagnoses: Circle her, Lord. Keep light near,/ and darkness afar.
For the one who feels caught between a rock and a hard place: Circle him, Lord./Keep peace within/ and anxiety without.
The Eternal Triune God shield all of them on every side.
The question is raised: do these prayers work? I don’t believe that “working” is something prayers are for. The Caim Prayer is a prayer for Presence, for awareness, for hope, no matter the reality, no matter the circumstance. It focuses divine, mysterious attention on a world where the rain falls on the just and the unjust, in which we have sorrow, in which we have no permanent abiding place, in which we are waiting for the Holy One to bring all things together.
And so I keep circling my heart, and the hearts, minds and bodies of the world with this prayer, even while I send checks, make phone calls, advocate for justice, listen to stories that need to be told. Another hurricane is forming, another visit to a doctor is scheduled, another tear in the seam of the broken world needs mending. So I continue to pray, Circle…and all of your beloved ones…. Lord./ Keep us all in the circle of your care.
The Caim Prayer is found in Volume I of Celtic Daily Prayer, from the Northumbria Community. 2002, Harper Collins, Page 297.
Personal photo from an exhibit of art from central western Africa displayed at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.