On Sunday evening October 3, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes produced a segment on singer Tony Bennett. Bennett, now 95 years of age, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The segment focused primarily on Tony Bennett’s final concert, a sold-out event at Radio City Music Hall with Lady Gaga.
Interestingly though, in one part of the piece, filmed in Bennett’s apartment, his accompanist was there. He started to play, and Bennett stood beside the piano and sang for an hour. No music. No lyrics. He just sang. When the curtain went up at Radio City, he raised his arms, welcomed the audience, and performed almost flawlessly. Two days later the singer had no memory of the concert. Such is the nature of this horrendous disease.
Anderson Cooper sought out Bennett’s neurologist and asked her how it was possible that someone with Alzheimer’s disease could function so effortlessly in one area of life, yet not remember simple everyday things. The doctor said that the music was “hardwired” into his mind and while there is no adequate medical explanation, music and performance are intrinsic to who he is.
The segment brought tears to my eyes. Not only in admiration for Tony Bennett, but on a much more personal level as I reflected on my dad. My father suffered from a particularly virulent form of Alzheimer’s which not only took away his mind, but also deprived him of mobility. Diapered at bedtime and in the morning, he was totally dependent on someone to care for him. He had no idea that the person caring for him was his wife of fifty years.
If Tony Bennett is hardwired to sing and perform, my dad was hardwired to pray. He would have starved to death had someone not prepared meals and eventually fed him. But here is the anomaly. The moment he was seated, he bowed his head and prayed. Prayer was hardwired into his brain at a place where even Alzheimer’s couldn’t reach.
Each week in worship we pose the question, “How’s Your Prayer Life?” We have asked the question for so long now, that I wonder if we actually ponder it or simply accept it as another element of worship. Each Wednesday we offer two opportunities for persons to come to the church and pray. The only agenda at these two prayer meetings is prayer. At those times of prayer participants receive a list of scriptures for the following week as well as prayer suggestions. One can of course, pray in any setting and circumstance, there is however, a sacredness to the worship space that is conducive to prayer. Each Wednesday the sanctuary is open at 10:30 am and 7:00 pm for times of reflection and prayer.
The experience of watching my dad pray when all other cognitive functions were gone challenges my own practice of prayer. Oh sure, I set aside time in the morning for prayer and devotions, but is prayer such an intrinsic piece of who I am that I am hardwired to pray?
There is a challenge here for all of us. We need to take prayer so seriously that it is our first response to both trial and celebration. We can quickly fall to our knees in times of crisis but fail to say thanks in times of blessing and celebration. When Paul challenged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” (1Thessalonians 5:17) he was encouraging them to develop such an attitude of prayer that it was as natural as breathing.
We have been speaking a great deal about church renewal and revitalization. Church renewal and revitalization begins and succeeds as we learn to be hardwired to pray. Prayer is a spiritual discipline and like any other discipline takes commitment and practice.
Some of us continue to share our lives with a prayer partner. Sadly, many of those prayer partnerships have fallen by the wayside, dying on the altar of “too busy” or more honestly, just not a priority.
In the strongest possible terms l encourage you: find a prayer partner. A prayer partner is someone you can trust implicitly with the joys and frustrations of your life. Selecting a prayer partner is itself and act of prayer. The process begins by asking God for discernment in leading you to the person with whom you may share very personal details of your life. I continue to be blessed by the prayer partners that God has brought into my life.
Ideally, prayer partners meet weekly in person. If in person is not possible each week a phone call or text can be meaningful. The agenda is quite simple. Share. Share the significant events of the past week. Trust. Trust that your prayer partner has your best interests at heart. Listen. Genuinely listen to the blessings and challenges that your prayer partner brings to the table. Maintain confidentiality. The bedrock of this relationship is that what is shared in these meetings stays between the two of you. Nothing destroys a relationship quicker than a violation of one’s trust. Finally, at the close of each session, each of you asks the other, “How can I pray for you?” As you are comfortable pray aloud for one another. In the intervening days until your next meeting, continue in prayer for your partner. If it feels appropriate give her or him a call or send a text just to check in to let them know you are thinking about them. Your prayers extend beyond a brief conversation.
The stronger our commitment to prayer, the more we open the door for God to renew our church. And let’s be honest, we need renewal. The preceding eighteen months of lockdowns, quarantines, vaccinations, and political turmoil have taken their toll on the church. We have succumbed to external circumstances rather than relying on God to sustain our faith and commitment. This did not happen overnight, and the tide will not reverse itself overnight. The Church belongs to God, not us. We are the stewards of God’s church and as such we have not always done such a great job of caring for what has been entrusted to us. It is time to reverse that trend and live as the children of God.
We begin this reversal on our knees, both literally and figuratively. We ask for forgiveness for our intolerance of other people and opinions. We turn away from the evil attitudes and acrimonious words that permeate social media and infiltrate the church. We pray for revival in our church, community, and nation. We get over ourselves and remember that we are the children of God when we often act like children of the evil one.
My dad was hardwired to pray. Nothing, not even a devastating disease could take that practice from him. This would be a much different church if we could learn to be hardwired to pray.