Prayer at the time of COVID-19: Iain Macritchie talks to John Dempster
When I was interviewing Dr Iain Macritchie about his role at the NHS Louisa Jordan field hospital, I also asked him his views on prayer, and how we should be praying at such a time as this. Was it legitimate to pray for God’s protection, or should we rather see God as accompanying and supporting us in our pain rather than protecting us from our pain?
‘I’ve often said “pray as you can”,’ Iain told me. We should never burden ourselves by thinking ‘I should be doing prayer this way, or that way.’ If we do that, Iain said, ‘Prayer becomes just a rod that we beat ourselves up with.’
And then he spoke about relaxing into prayer: ‘You know, maybe people should just be playful about prayer just now, and find what works for them, and if what works for them is a walk on a beautiful spring morning, and allowing God to fill them with a sense of beauty in creation and be grateful for that, for me, that is prayer.’
And then Iain moved on to address my question about prayer in terms of what we should pray for. He quoted C. S. Lewis who wrote that prayer is about changing us. It is not, essentially, to change God, but to align ourselves with God’s will and purposes.’ In the light of this, Iain responded to my question ‘what should I pray for?’ by saying ‘Whatever God lays on our hearts to ask for.’
He continued ‘That seems to be a good biblical injunction:
It is God who prompts prayer in us, and maybe we just open ourselves up to God’s prompting, and the movement of God’s Spirit and ask for things that we need.
And Iain mentioned another essential quality of prayer:
I’ve always been of the mind that prayer has to be brutally honest, and some of my best prayers have been absolutely urgent cries for help, borne out of a real and urgent desire and whether or not that prayer has been answered the way I wanted or not, the prayer has been a very real prayer. So if people are praying for protection, I don’t see that as an illegitimate prayer, that’s their heart’s….that’s their desire. Why would they not pray that?
But I continued to worry away at my question. ‘I suppose it could be seen to be a bit selfish,’ I said doubtfully, ‘you know, asking for protection for me and my people, when there are so many other people out there suffering?’
Iain smiled. ‘But it’s also honest,’ he said. ‘And maybe part of the prayer, part of God’s response to that prayer is to start the conversation about “What about the others, then?” And so it begins to change us. ‘
‘I absolutely know,’ he assured me, ‘that if one of my loved ones was to be very ill and in hospital at this time, my prayer would be for them, for their recovery, for them to get well. A very driven and urgent prayer. And I think a very legitimate prayer.’