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Gray Matter by David Levy

A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer . . . One Patient at a Time.

This nonfiction “blend of medical drama and spiritual insight” reminded me of one of my favorite books from 2011, Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. In Gray Matter, Dr. Levy, a neurosurgeon, tells the story of how he started offering to pray with his patients before surgery, and eventually at other critical moments in their medical journey. He writes honestly about the fears involved in this experiment of faith: how he feared losing his reputation, offending patients or fellow medical coworkers, making a fool of himself, even ruining God’s reputation if his prayers went unanswered.

But Dr. Levy also tells how he felt compelled to offer his patients the gift of faithful, simple prayer before, and often during, what was for the patient an anything-but-routine procedure. And very few of his patients refused his offer to pray for them. For those who did refuse, Dr. Levy respected their wishes and went on to do the surgery with all of the skill he had. But the book focuses on the stories of individual patients who did agree to have Dr. Levy pray for them. The author tells about how prayer became for him an integral part of the treatment process and about how those prayers and God’s presence acknowledged in the OR made a difference in the lives of both doctor and patients.

I was especially encouraged to read about the importance of forgiveness and the release of bitterness on the road to physical health. Many, many people are afflicted by diseases and ailments that are caused or exacerbated by the spiritual illness that they hold onto in the form of bitterness and resentment. As Dr. Levy began to pray for his patients, he sometimes felt led to ask about their spiritual health, especially in the area of forgiveness. And some patients he was able to lead to forgive those who had hurt them and at the same time bring themselves into a place to receive healing and forgiveness for their own sins.

It seems to me that if I really believed that God hears my prayers and that He chooses to work through prayer to work in the world and in people’s lives, I would offer to pray for people much more often and then I would do it. This story of a doctor who does believe, not without doubts and stutters, but nevertheless believes and puts into practice what God has called him to do, is inspiring.

Carrie at Reading to Know just wrote a review in which she credits her mother-in-law with inspiring her to pray more fervently and consistently:

“When a situation popped up she held my hand and simply said, “We will pray.” And I did. And I know she did. Her example and exhortation was worth more to me than a pile of pamphlets, even though they may be written by Martin Luther. . . She also prays for each member of our family. And I know that her prayers are answered. I know. Her spirit of humility and committment to follow Christ was a huge spiritual wake-up call to me.”

Simply pray. Offer to pray. Pray daily. Pray through. If I believe in Jesus’ words “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I”, I will pray for those He gives me breath to encourage in that way. And my faith will grow, and God will be glorified.

12 Projects for 2013

For several years now, I’ve been starting off the year with projects instead of resolutions. I don’t always complete my projects, but I enjoy starting them and working toward a goal. And I don’t feel guilty if I don’t finish. If I do finish, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Win-win. So, here are my twelve projects for 2013:

1. 100 Days in the Book of Isaiah. I’m really looking forward to this study along with my church family.

2. Reading Through West Africa. The countries of West Africa (according to my scheme) are Benin, Biafra (part of Nigeria), Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. That’s fourteen nations, if I include Biafra, and I would very much like to read at least one book from or about each country. If you have suggestions, please comment.

3. I’m working on a project with my church for a community/tutoring/library media center. This TED talk by author Dave Eggers was inspirational, although it’s not exactly what I have in mind. I am working more on a library and study center for homeschoolers and of course, it would be open to kids who are in public or private schools, too. A lot of my work will be in relation to the library, gathering excellent books and adding to the library and helping homeschool and other families to use the library to enrich their studies. I am also inspired by this library and others like it.

4. I want to concentrate on reading all the books on my TBR list this year –at least all of them that I can beg, borrow (from the library) or somehow purchase. I’ve already requested several of the books on my list from the library.

5. My Classics Club list is a sort of addendum to my TBR list, and I’d also like to read many of the books on that list. In 2012 I read Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, and Memento Mori by Muriel Spark, three out of fifty-three, not a good average if I’m to be done with all of them by 2017.

6. I have house-keeping project that I’m almost embarrassed to mention here. I’ve started small–cleaning and sorting piles in a corner of my bedroom. I’d really like to continue cleaning, purging, and organizing around the perimeter of my bedroom and then the living room until eventually I get around the entire house. A project so ridiculously mundane and yet so needed.

7. I continue to work through this list of new-to-me recipes and through several cookbooks and other recipe sources for dishes I want to try this year. I would like to make one new dish per week, and maybe I can manage to “review” the meals and food I make here at Semicolon. If you have any extra-special recipes you think I should try, please leave a comment.

8. Praying for Strangers (and Friends) Project. I was quite impressed by my reading of River Jordan’s prayer project book, Praying for Strangers. I still can’t walk up to strangers and tell them that I’m praying for them or ask them for prayer requests. But in 2013 I hope to ask God to give me one person each day to focus on and to pray for. Maybe I’ll be praying for you one day this year. I have been much more consistent in praying for specific people this past year, and I hope to continue the practice.

9. U.S. Presidents Reading Project. I got David McCullough’s biography of Truman for Christmas in 2011, and I plan to read that chunkster during my Lenten blog break since I didn’t read it last year. I don’t know if I’ll read any other presidential biographies this year, but if I finish Truman I’ll be doing well.

10. The 40-Trash Bag Challenge. Starting tomorrow. My life needs this project.

11. 100 Movies of Summer. When we’re not traveling, which will be most of the summer, we might watch a few old classic but new-to-us movies. I’ll need to make a new list, since we’ve watched many of the ones on the list I linked to, but I hope to find a few gems this summer.

12. I got this Bible for Christmas (mine is red), and I’ve already begun transferring my notes from my old Bible into this new one and taking new notes. I just jot down whatever the Holy Spirit brings to mind with the intention of giving the Bible to one of my children someday.

Poem #48, In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

“Poetry is emotion put into measure.”~Thomas Hardy

Tennyson’s friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, b. 1811, was the subject, upon his death in 1833 at the age of 22, of Tennyson’s famous poem In Memoriam. Hallam was engaged to Tennyson’s sister, Emilia, and he was Tennyson’s close friend. He died suddenly while travelling in Vienna of a brain hemorrhage. The poem wasn’t actually published until 1850; I guess it took Tennyson that long to work through his grief in poetic form over Hallam’s untimely death.

In Memoriam is written in four-line ABBA stanzas of iambic tetrameter, and such stanzas are now called In Memoriam Stanzas. It’s a long poem that traces Tennyson’s grieving over the course of at least three years. Here are a few of the most often quoted lines and stanzas of the poem:

'#25 January 1st week.' photo (c) 2009, next sentence - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;

Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.

Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.

********************************

'Alfred Tennyson' photo (c) 2008, Preus  museum - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

********************************

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

********************************

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last — far off — at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

********************************
'Oh MAN!' photo (c) 2005, Brian - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

******************************
'santorini bells' photo (c) 2007, Owen Benson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Tennyson struggles with doubt and grief and philosophical questions throughout the poem, but ends with faith in a God who hears his cries:

No, like a child in doubt and fear:
But that blind clamour made me wise;
Then was I as a child that cries,
But, crying, knows his father near;

And what I am beheld again
What is, and no man understands;
And out of darkness came the hands
That reach thro’ nature, moulding men.

Queen Victoria, after the death of her beloved husband Albert, said, “Next to the Bible, In Memoriam is my comfort.”

Read the entire poem.

Prayer Tweets

On this National Day of Prayer I’m going for a run. I pray better when my legs are moving. @MaryDeMuth

“Prayer rings the alarm bell, and the Master of the house arises to the rescue, shaking all things beneath his tread.” Spurgeon @brandywinebooks

“Prayer has shaken houses, opened prison doors, and made stout hearts to quail.” Spurgeon on Psalm 18 @brandywinebooks

Today is The National Day of Prayer. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) @wyclif

Pray for someone you love today, someone you disagree with and someone who needs healing #nationaldayofprayer @baueriegirl

Happy #nationaldayofprayer! Talking to Him is the first step to having a relationship with Him. So what are you waiting for? @jillianhennan

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. 1 Tim 2:1 #nationaldayofprayer @warrenwoodsjr

Reminded that today, like all days, is a great day for prayer. #nationaldayofprayer @sethhanson

Praying the Psalms

In the Bible study video I watched last night, R.C. Sproul suggested that the book of the Bible most conducive to energizing and improving your prayer life was Psalms. The Psalms are 150 prayers and songs, inspired by God himself, and dealing with all aspects of the human condition.

Here a few psalms that might give you words to speak to God wherever you find yourself today:

Psalm 95: A song of thanksgiving

Psalm 96: A song of praise to a mighty God

Psalm 86: A plea for mercy

Psalm 77: A psalm of confidence in the strength and compassion of the Lord

Psalm 73: A request for God to render justice to the arrogant

Psalm 63: A psalm for someone who is thirsty to know God

Psalm 62: A request for hope, rest, and refuge

Psalm 51: A prayer of repentance

Psalm 133: A psalm celebrating God’s establishment of communities

Psalm 140: A prayer for deliverance from the wicked and protection from evil

Psalm 148: Let everything and everyone praise the Lord!

Psalm 150: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

A list of topics for all the psalms.

“In the Psalter you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.” ~Athanasius

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” ~C.S. Lewis

National Day of Prayer, 2011

So today is the National Day of Prayer in the United States.

The 60th Annual National Day of Prayer will take place Thursday, May 5, 2011. Millions will unite in prayer at thousands of events from coast to coast. The theme, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, is based on the verse from Psalm 91:2 which states: “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Mrs. Joni Eareckson Tada will join Mrs. Shirley Dobson to lead the nation in prayer as the 2011 Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

I’m going to try to post about prayer today, to encourage myself and you to spend time in prayer today, to start a prayer habit if you don’t already have one, and to use this day as an impetus to to a renewed relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Stay tuned.

Prayer Adventures

I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer, and I’ve actually been praying more—ever since I read the book Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. It sounds a little crazy, since I’ve been a Christian for almost fifty years, but I think maybe God is trying to teach me to pray. Really pray. Not just think about praying or talk about prayer or read about prayer, but actually get still and form words and offer them up to Him. So, here’s a sampling of what’s been going on in my mind and heart around this topic of prayer:

I read and appreciated this brief post: Prayer and Goosebumps Yes, I’m praying a lot more short, on the spot, before-I-forget, prayers.

Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude. ~Walter A. Mueller

Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees. ~Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

We must move from asking God to take care of the things that are breaking our hearts, to praying about the things that are breaking His heart. ~Margaret Gibb

Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers. ~Sidlow Baxter

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. ~Brother Lawrence

Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work. ~Oswald Chambers

The main lesson about prayer is just this: Do it! Do it! Do it! You want to be taught to pray. My answer is pray and never faint, and then you shall never fail. ~John Laidlaw

Gleaned from the Saturday Review and Other Places

Thanks to Carrie for pointing me to this review of Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. I’m intrigued by the idea of this book about an author who decides to choose one stranger to pray for each day. My first thought after reading about Ms. Jordan’s resolution was, “I could do that!” Then, I read at her blog that Ms. Jordan not only prays for a stranger each day, but she also often feels led to tell the person that she will be praying and asks for prayer requests. That’s a little more intimidating. See, I’m really rather shy and reserved. The idea of going up to a complete stranger and telling them that I’ll be praying for them is, well, actually terrifying. So I’ve been praying for a stranger each day for the past three days, but I haven’t told anyone about it, especially not the person I prayed for, until I wrote this post.

I also downloaded the book for my Kindle and started reading it today. I’m intrigued, and I can see the benefit to me and to others of actually talking, getting my stranger’s name, and telling the person that I’ll be praying for him or her. I’m just not sure I have enough courage to do it. Maybe in the pages of Ms. Jordan’s book, I’ll find the gumption and unselfishness to move me to talk to strangers. Maybe I’ll just continue to talk to God about the people He brings across my path. Either way I’m expecting God to work through this prayer thing, even though I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really understand how or why prayer works.

On another note, I found a few other books at Borders and at Barnes and Noble that I’d like to read soon. I didn’t buy anything, but I’ll be looking for these books at the library soon:

Decision Points by George W. Bush. I’m a Bush fangirl, and I’ve been meaning to read his book. But I sort of forgot about it, so I was happy to be reminded whe I saw it in the bookstore.
Truman by David McCullough. Another president, another biography by the author of John Adams. I expect to enjoy learning more about Mr. Truman when I get around to this one.
The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards by Jim Steinmeyer. I heard the author of this book talking about Thurston and Houdini on NPR, and I thought then that I would like to read the book. However, it’s another one I had forgotten until I saw it displayed in the bookstore.
Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Civilization by Leil Leibovitz and Matthew Miller. “In 1872, under the auspices of the Chinese Educational Mission, 120 Chinese boys were sent to the U.S. to attend elite colleges, absorb the best this mysterious country could offer, and return to enrich China with their experiences and knowledge.” (Booklist) Why does this subject sound so fascinating to me?
The First Clash: The Miraculous Greek Victory at Marathon and Its Impact on Western Civilization by Jim Lacey. And this one, too?

Right now, in addition to the prayer book, I’m reading a book about Louisa and John Quincy Adams called Cannibals of the Heart: A Personal Biography of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams. The book is annoying me in some ways because the author, Jim Shepherd, seems to have no sympathy for John Quincy Adams at all. In fact, his portrayal of JQA makes one wonder how in the world he ever would have managed to get a job as local dogcatcher much less world famous diplomat, senator, U.S. president, and legislator. Mr. Shepherd likes Louisa a lot more and tries to induce his readers to feel sorry for her and her lot as an early nineteenth century woman, enslaved and dominated by the men in her life, especially the irascible Mr. Adams. I’m sure she was in a pitiable state and one at which I would have chafed, but Mr. Shepherd’s obvious and heavy-handed partisanship makes me want to take JQA’s side just to be contrary. Still, I’m finding the life story of of this Washington power couple to be full of interest and excitement, not to mention historical significance. I’ll be writing more about the Adams family soon, I’m sure.

I will finish my posts on the 40 Inspirational Classics for Lent, too. I’ve been in the midst of a blogging block or dry spell or something the past few days, so my 40 Classics posts may go past Easter and into the time of feasting after Easter. But that’s OK with me.

U.S. Launches Missile Strike on Libya

The Pentagon reports the United States has launched a missile strike on Libyan air defenses.

American warplanes, ships and submarines are prepared to launch a furious assault on Libya’s limited air defenses, clearing the way for European and other planes to enforce a no-fly zone designed to ground Moammar Gadahfi’s air force and cripple his ability to inflict further violence on rebels, U.S. officials said. The U.S. also has the ability to knock out air defense radars with Navy electronic warfare planes.

Hours after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attended an international conference in Paris that endorsed military action against Gadhafi, the U.S. was poised to kick off its attacks on Libyan air defense missile and radar sites along the Mediterranean coast to protect no-fly zone pilots from the threat of getting shot down. (Sources: Associated Press, USA Today, the Pentagon)

As the Lord leads, please pray now:

* For the protection of all U.S. servicemen and women participating in this attack.
* For the safety of all Allied forces engaged in the operation.
* For the safety of Libyan civilians and rebels and all who are in the strike zone
* For God’s purposes to be accomplished as a result of this international action against Libya.

From: The Presidential Prayer Team

Obama Prayer by Charles M. Garriott

Obama Prayer: Prayers for the 44th President by Charles M. Garriott.

Confession time: I requested this book from the author when I received an email pitch, but then when I got it, I didn’t really want to read it. President Obama is not my favorite politician/leader, and if I read the book I’d probably be convicted about actually spending valuable time praying for the man and his presidency. Did I want to do that? And then, what if I did pray for Mr. Obama, but God didn’t do anything that I recognized as an answer to my prayers? Or, like in the story of Jonah, what if God did bring Mr. Obama and the rest of his administration to repentance and change? Would I believe it? Or would I rather see God’s wrath outpoured on those with whom I disagree both morally and politically?

Ouch. So first I prayed for my own rather faithless and vengeful heart to be changed, and then I read the book.

Each chapter of this brief but powerful book of less than 100 pages attempts to answer in various ways the question, “How then do we pray for Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America?” I was led to pray for Mr Obama’s words and decisions, for his family and the example he sets for the families of our nation, for wisdom for him and for his advisors, for him to pursue and maintain truth, for protection for him personally and for our nation, for him to display both justice and mercy in his actions and in the laws he executes. Each chapter ends with a prepared prayer that the reader can use to place before the Lord in behalf of President Obama, to intercede for him and for his government of our nation.

We are commanded as Christians to pray for our leaders. I prayed often for President George W. Bush and his administration. For President Obama, not so much. I don’t understand prayer very well, and I fail to pray for all the reasons I already confessed to, and also because sometimes I’m just lazy. However, not praying when we are told plainly to do so in the Bible is wrong, and I am determined to obey God whether I totally understand why He asks what He asks or not. So I recommend this little book to you if you are a Christian citizen of the United States who wants to to do what God commands in regard to our government and our president. I’m going to keep this book next to my Bible for the next year or two to remind me that God is in control and to help me to remember to pray for Barack Obama.

“We must keep this in mind when praying for a president. The call to pray for President Barack Obama and his administration is first of all a call to dependency on God. It is a call to respond to the work of grace within our lives. It is a reminder that in the political realm neither we nor the president are ultimately in charge.”

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:1-5

Obama Prayer by Charles Garriott will be available from Amazon and other booksellers on February 15, 2011. You can start praying anytime.