She made an unusually tender request as we were lying together in bed. She asked me to pray for her. She doesn’t do this often. My partner isn’t one to wear her faith on her sleeves. She’s uncomfortable with more emotive and intimate public expressions of faith. She prefers to reserve discussion of her deepest spiritual beliefs to those closest to her. She does not like public prayer and excessively emotional praise and worship music. She’s a civilian who got herself mixed up with me. I’m the one who is professionally religious. She’s still learning to navigate this world of professional religion with all of its intricacies and intrigues.
Furthermore, my partner doesn’t journey the same way that I do. We choose to walk together but we don’t wear the same brand of traveling shoes. There are large elements of Christian language and tradition that don’t ring authentic on my partner’s lips and so as a matter of personal conscience she carefully avoids the offending words and the elements of Christian tradition that she can’t abide.
We are bisexual women. We are spiritually bilingual women, or perhaps even better—we are spiritually multilingual women. Conversant in more than one spiritual language. My first love, my native language is the Christian language. From the time I was a toddler, Christian language provided the context for my acquisition of language. It’s how I learned to speak, and the first words I formed were Christian words. Over time, I’ve become fluent in Christianity’s many rich accents and dialects. I’ve traveled the country and learned how to speak New Englander, Southerner, Midwesterner, East Coast, West Coast Evangelical, Mainline, and Fringe traditions. Emotive and cerebral, Academic and earnest. There are more subtle variations than there will be time for me to learn in this life time.
But I am still the sum of my parts. I have so many life lines running through me. The proud German- Lutheran tradition of my father’s side. The Welsh-English Methodists of My mother’s side. In my early teens my family and I found our way into a Presbyterian church, and we migrated into the system from the outside. I grew up going to the large Suburban Southern Baptist Church for youth groups and for youth activities. The Christian Missionary Alliance for young adult and 20something gatherings. Occasionally a trip to the Vineyard would get thrown into the mix. My best friend was Catholic, and I would go there too. I would elect to go to Christmas Mass with her and sometimes Easter mass. I traveled through mainline spaces and I’ve hung out on the fringes too. Something glorious was happening in these spaces, something sacred. What it amounts to is that inside the church or outside the church, anywhere God was–I wanted to be. I wasn’t all that hung up about the particulars, and the older I get the less interesting I find them to be.
My partner’s lineage is a little less complicated than mine. She also grew up with Christianity as her native language, and she can still speak this language. It comes pouring out easy like a Sunday morning over brunch and a hot cup of tea. She has the sweetest Texan Methodist drawl. She lights up when she recounts her summers at Methodist church camp. She gets downright Evangelical as she shares memories of bible studies she attended and the Christian rock music so formative to her teen and young adult years. She tells me that Christian musician– Chris Tomlin was part of the house band of a church that she attended for awhile. She says this with a twinkle in her eyes and beaming with pride. In an earnest moment, I can get her to admit how much all of that really meant to her and how much it still does.
As she came into her own as a young adult she left the church for a season for a number of intersecting reasons that are hers to tell and not mine to share. In her twenties, she eventually found her way back into “loosely” organized religious tradition through the Unitarian tradition. Both of us have learned that a curious byproduct of aging is expansion. That is to say, the more we age, the more we tend to grow and expand. You may interpret this however you’d like. In all cases, we’ve learned that as we age, “loose” things just seem to fit us better.
Now, the Unitarian tradition is her daily language. She would say that she’s a Unitarian with Methodist sympathies. This is to say, she’s Unitarian most of the time, but on Christmas and Easter, Methodist Jesus comes a knockin’ and he usually has his way. She feels a desire to sing things in Christian churches that are too earnest for her to sing on other days. She wants to pray things out loud that unearth the parts of ourselves that have penetrated deeper than words.
Prayer is a tricky subject for my partner—you see she has cerebral palsy and when she is using her crutches, and when she’s using her mobility scooter, she gets approached by strangers. Usually Christian strangers. Scratch that. Always Christian strangers. We’ve never happened upon a Jewish stranger or a Muslim stranger with a wild eyed tick and a penchant to evangelize us via their prayer. She’s approached by good hearted people who want to “fix her cerebral palsy” through their prayer. It hasn’t occurred to them yet that she isn’t broken.
The woman I love needs our world to be fixed by recognizing that beautiful bodies come to us in all different ways with all different needs, and all of us travel differently within a infinite number of skins. It would be nice if the strangers prayed about that. Better yet it would be nice if their thoughts and prayers turned into hands and feet, opening doors for her if she’s struggling on a given day, and building accessibility ramps creating access to spaces for all people to enjoy.
In my partner’s world, and now in mine, unsolicited prayer has come to symbolize something painful. It’s come to symbolize people who see her cerebral palsy but people who are too lazy to invest the time and the energy to truly see her. Her—the woman with a master’s degree. Her—the woman who is program director for one of the largest military bases in the country ensuring medical access all around the globe for over 1000 military members and their special needs family members. Her—the woman working on her post graduate clinical license in social work. Her—the woman who loves so ferociously, advocates for justice so fiercely, and accomplishes all of this before dinner on most days. Some days she comes home late, and I forgive her for this. Most of these strangers have not truly earned the right to pray for my beloved partner, because they do not know her. And that’s made her cynical about the whole enterprise of prayer.
But on this night, lying in bed, cheek-to-cheek, skin-to-skin with Adrienne bundled in my arms, she whispered softly in my ears, “would you pray for me?” There were tears in her eyes. She was in a lot of physical pain. Conservative Christians make much ado about same sex relationships and the way same sex flesh plays and delights in other same sex flesh, and that’s such a beautiful and sacred thing, but that’s not what I want to share about today.
What I want to share is what I think the poets and sages and biblical authors were really talking about when they said that Adam & Eve “knew” each other. I want to share how Adam & Steve might “know” each other, or how Marcy & Adrienne are “life long learning” each other. I think the sages were talking about something that goes so far beyond skin deep knowing. I think they were talking about a kind of “knowing” and “knitting together” that is cultivated over a lifetime of shared intention with bodily, emotional, and spiritual practices engaged. What I want to talk about is not the way that bodies play with bodies, but the way that hearts dance with hearts, and bone sings to bone, and deep calls to deep, and how two people trust each other enough to hold the marrow of a thing.
She was in a lot of physical pain–Adrienne. And so I prayed for her. She was anxious and scared about recent losses in her balance and mobility. She wondered if these will be permanent. And so I prayed for her. I prayed in the overlapping spaces of the spiritual language we’ve known our whole lives. I prayed for her in the spiritual languages we’ve learned to speak together since.
I didn’t pray for her healing. Instead, I prayed for her peace. I didn’t pray for her to become different than who she is, instead, I prayed for pain to subside so that she can be the full expression of who she is. I didn’t pray for a supernatural miracle, instead I prayed for all the medical personnel who have worked with her, are working with her, and will work with her in the future. The changes in knowledge and the innovation of adaptive technology are modern day miracles. I prayed for the technology and the equipment that already makes so many of our shared dreams possible. And I prayed for future advances that will do even more.
I prayed that every cell in her body would come alive with love, and light, and heat, and spirit’s energy. I prayed that whatever energies are good and holy and sacred from my own body would be poured out and absorbed into hers. I prayed that this would be felt deeply. I prayed that I would be able to feel what’s going on in her body as deeply as possible as if it were my own. I prayed that her beautiful body, the vessel that God has given to her for her work in this life—I prayed that it would be filled with grace from head to toe, leaving no hair on her head uncounted, no freckle unexamined, no weak spot untouched, no strong place unfortified, no corner unturned or unknown.
I prayed that we would lean into the body’s grace together. I prayed for her, and both of us felt the light and heat and power of stepping outside of our self-occupied spaces, and into a sacred space together. Both of us opened our hands willing to receive. Willing to believe. Both of us being vulnerable together. I prayed for something so much bigger than I could ever give to her, and that’s saying a lot because I would lasso the moon and give her the whole world and then some if I could. And so standing face to face with the contemplation of mysteries that run deeper than even that, and having the courage to summon them into our room— I cried. Who am I in the face of such deep mysteries? I’m someone who is humbled to tears. I’m someone who prays.
I prayed for her. I didn’t pray for her by invoking Jesus name out loud, because that’s not the name by which my partner prefers to pray. And prayer is such a gentle thing. Prayer is such an intimate thing. To pray together is to dance together. If you punch someone in the gut or smash someone’s toes, you’re not dancing with them. If prayer is manipulated into being a persuasive tool then we are not praying at all. We are marketing.
Prayer relinquishes power and control. I let us both hold fast to the sacred names rising up in our hearts. I let us hold shared space separately but together in our silence. This is what it means for 2 to become 1, not that one completely loses and forsakes herself for the sake of another, but that the two find themselves in each other and create something new and dynamic together. We participate in each other’s becoming through a shared spiritual bond that is thicker than blood, and a bit more mysterious and ephemeral than that too.
I silently held space. And the name that tenderly and gently filled me to my core–was the name of Jesus. That is the name I know. Like muscle memory. Like reflex. Like tradition flowing through my bones. Whether I chose my myth, or my myth chose me, I don’t really know. And I don’t really care. I just know that when I pray, I pray in Jesus name.
Absent any words, Jesus is the name that rises up authentically as I give myself over to prayer. And so it was to Jesus that I silently prayed. There in our silence, I invoked a few other names that are sacred to me too. I let my partner hold her sacred names in silence too. My partner and I held each other for dear life, because she is dear to me. And she is the most precious thing in my life. And we prayed. We cried. And we prayed.
I cried because she asked me to pray for her. She ASKED me to pray for her. She asked me to PRAY for her. She asked me to pray for her in a world where prayer is so often weaponized against her by well-meaning people who don’t really understand what they’re doing. Assaulting her dignity with their shallow assumptions. She does not need their pity prayers. She does not need to be healed via their prayers. She does not need to be told she’s an inspiration just because she is a woman with a disability. She is an inspiration just because she is Adrienne, through and through, beginning to end, from A-to-Z, all of her parts and pieces knit together in intimate and intricate ways. She is an inspiration simply because She is…
I cried because I recognized the intimacy and the trust that she was affording to me. She was inviting me to take a weapon that she’d experienced with blunt force and to transform it into something beautiful. She asked me to pray for her, and we would quilt this prayer around ourselves and hem ourselves into its fabric together. She cried because she felt tightly held and covered by the blanket of prayer which we had stitched big enough to hold room for the both of us. She cried because she was having a difficult day with her body, and though she felt lonely and trapped by an experience that I will not ever be able to know as she knows it, she wasn’t wrestling this alone anymore. I know that I love her, and she knows this too. She cried in giving herself permission to release herself to a hope that runs counter to pragmatism and deeper than intellectual kinds of knowing.
It’s okay to cling to your body’s grace, and to ask of it yet more grace. To lean in—request relief, and rest, and care—to speak to your body tenderly, and to have someone else intercede on your body’s behalf too. It’s okay to let someone touch all of your hurting places and to tell them the truth that they are so exquisitely loved in the hopes that maybe they’ll hurt a little less too. It’s okay to admit your deepest fears and vulnerabilities and to dive deep into sacred space while someone else rocks and cradles you there.
She asked me to pray for her.
And together we prayed. Amen.