We do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. - Romans 8:26 (NRSV)
The pastor invited us to pray for the usual suspects: peace, justice, healing, hope, and courage for the perils of the day.
Then, wrapping up, she also had us pray "for all who have asked for our prayers"—which was useful. I'm always assuring people I'll pray for them, but sometimes I forget. So to pray for them all at once helped me keep my promises.
But she wasn't done. And what came next made me weep. "Let us also pray," she said, "for those who have no one to pray for them."
I'd never before prayed for people who have no one to pray for them. I didn't know there could be such a vast loneliness, not to have even one soul storming heaven for you. Where had I been?
"For those who have no one to pray for them." I couldn't stop crying.
I've always cherished Paul's assurance that the Spirit prays in us, for us, on our behalf. But I'd always thought of Her intercession as Plan B for times when my own prayer fails. But that day I understood that for some people, She's not Plan B: She's the only plan.
Which is why I cried, stunned and grateful to contemplate the Spirit praying constantly in souls who are so profoundly alone. Sighing beyond words to God for them, not just because they can't or don't know how, but because there's no one else, no one but Her, to help them lift their loneliness to God.
For those who have no one to pray for them: Lord, hear Her prayer.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.