“I’ll pray for you.” That can be a sentence of honest intent and care, but it can just easily be a power play, a kind of spiritual violence. I had a friend who was once struggling with faith, asking deep questions of it. Many who did not know him well, earnest evangelicals who hadn’t been gifted with such questions, would sometimes come to him and say, “I’ll pray for you.” “I’ll pray for you,” because I’ve got God figured out and you don’t. “I’ll pray for you,” because I have a close connection to the Divine and can put in a good word for you. That was the message communicated and subconsciously I think it was the reality of the intent. So much of our language about faith in God is language about our own desires for power—Nietzsche, for all his flaws, saw this well.
It is better to simply pray; to answer yes at the invitation to pray. It is best to be careful of our God talk, tenuous in our promises. Better than “I’ll pray for you” is to say, I don’t have it figured out either, I don’t have any closer tie to the divine than you do. Better to say, “Pray for me.”
“Pray for me.” Of all of the remarkable things about the election of Pope Francis I is that call. Popes are people who sit in places of great power and authority in the church, Popes are the people who do the praying for. Even as a protestant, I must acknowledge and recognize the importance and authority of the Pope as a leader in the church, even if I do not accept it as an absolute or comprehensive authority. For Pope Francis to begin his ministry with a call for the throngs of Christians watching the announcement of his Papacy to pray for him speaks to a great deal of humility, to a proper orientation.
There is too much speculation going on now about this new Pope and I don’t want to pretend to know more than I know. But in this first gesture Francis has set an example. “Pray for me,” that should be a more ready sentence for all of us. It marks our dependence, our lack, our need. It enters us into an economy of interdependence that we call the church. “Pray for me,” “Yes, and pray for me.” As Francis I said, “Let us always pray for one another.”