Intercessory Praying: Exploring the Mystery

By Mahan Siler

On April 21, 2023, while attending an Alliance of Baptists Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia, my life was profoundly interrupted within seconds. While walking down steps to a patio, I tripped and fell, severing my quad tendons in both knees. Attempts to stand were futile. 

Immediately a circle of Alliance care formed including my pastor, Missy Harris. Ben Boswell’s quip pierced the seriousness, “Mahan, you sure go through a lot of trouble to get attention.” Before being carted off to the emergency room, Elijah stepped forward with a timely prayer. From that moment helplessness, dependence, uncertainty settled in to stay for a long spell.

Then, during my six weeks in a local rehab facility, following a session of physical therapy, I experienced a heart attack. Another surprise. Another shock. Another “fall.” 

However, these months of rehab with its dual focus on heart and knees have granted me time, lots of time to reflect on my experience. I began to ponder this mystery–intercessory praying. 

The news of my plight spread broadly perhaps because these were unsettling events occurring to a settled person. I heard from those with whom I hadn’t had contact for decades. Others connected with me through The CaringBridge, set up by our daughter, Jeanine. Some learned this news in other ways.

From these many people I heard some version of concern and care. This “prayer” of support and hope took many forms—“Wow! I’m so sorry. I hope for his recovery.” Or, the more direct aspiration, “I’m thinking of you”…“I am praying for you.”… ”I am holding you in the Light”…“I’m sending love your way.” Some prayers were collective—“We pray for Mahan’s healing of body and strength of spirit.” I am assuming that all these friends and family who heard the news paused and wished me well. Let’s name these expressions as intercessions on my behalf. 

This is my curiosity: Why have I sustained a relatively high level of gratitude, learning, and amazement during this unexpected detour? Yes, there have been down times but not for long. I haven’t lived there.

To my caring community I say thank you for showing up and being with me and in me. I see it now, your caring intentions have been a primary source of my gratitude, learning and amazement. And you account for my deepened appreciation and recommitment to this practice of intercessory praying. 

For certain I did not, indeed I could not generate this capacity from within myself. It seems that we—the intercessors and me—joined a Compassion already present and available. How else can I explain this energy that fueled my surprising equanimity? Perhaps this Love does not come from you or from me. In those moments we participate in a relational energy field we often name healing Spirit, Justice making, extravagant Mercy, indeed, the movement of God with us, within us and among us.  

This awareness is noteworthy: With each intercessor I have enjoyed a relationship. However distant in the past, at some point in time we savored a significant experience. Perhaps we shared moments of grief or joy. Or maybe we were investing in some common cause or mutual events of learning. I see it now. Each relationship was already in place that became activated by each intentional expression of care. In these moments of intercession a resonance, a reverberating, non-physical force was experienced but not seen nor measurable. In that instant of connection we were in Love and knew it on some level. For me I felt held and carried. And I assume this Mystery of healing is also operative with those, not known personally, with whom we share the human experience.   

Within these missiles of loving intention we become a part of each other. These exchanges touch a profound revelation—there is no separation. Separation is a delusion, a lie. Our Western dominant, materialist worldview positions us as separate individuals, motivated by rational self-interest, prone to compare, compete and “other” one another. 

Intercessory intentions (prayers) awaken us to the interconnectivity of all our relationships. Through intercessory praying we taste, even for a moment, that we are one, one union, one communion—“interbeing,” Thich Nhat Hanh’s word or Jesus’ word “loving the other as yourself,” or “ubuntu” a South African word meaning “I am because we are.” Quantum physicists call this entanglement when even the thought of another has some impact on that person’s being. I prefer to call this the power and mystery of intercessory praying, “power” because intercessory praying transforms, and “mystery” because expressions of such caring connections cannot be precisely named, measured or controlled. The mind is puzzled by it all; the heart knows.

To my caring community I say thank you for showing up and being with me and in me. I see it now, your caring intentions have been a primary source of my gratitude, learning and amazement. And you account for my deepened appreciation and recommitment to this practice of intercessory praying.

I am left speculating, what if we could know and align with this empowering, healing, transforming energy of Love within all of our relationships? Why, we all would be “lost in wonder, love and praise.”

Mahan Siler lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife, Janice. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and among the founders of the Alliance of Baptists. Mahan served two Alliance congregational partners over his several decades in vocational ministry, including Ravensworth Baptist Church, located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina. He has served as a spiritual mentor to many members of the Alliance.

6 thoughts on “Intercessory Praying: Exploring the Mystery

  1. Mahan
    You words describe my experience with the intercessory prayers of friends and family during these months after Rachel’s death. Thank you for putting this reality into words.
    A brother

  2. Mahan:
    Over several decades you have been an inspiration to my spouse and myself in so many ways. Your gracious spirit is infectious and a blessing to all who know you. Marian and I celebrated 61 years of marriage this past September and we are forever grateful for your pastoral ministry while you were. our pastor at Pullen.

  3. Dear Mahan,
    So grateful to hear you’re better.
    Thank you for this reminder that our intentions matter, both for others and for our own healing.
    Greg and I will always be grateful for your support and guidance.
    Indeed, sending our love,
    Carole Jackson Cochran

  4. Oh, Mahan,
    Hearing your words made me remember how much I miss your words, your understanding of concepts that had been narrowed and limited. You expanded them and expanded my experience of them. Thank you for writing about your experience in your voice that allowed me to hear you speak again, to hear one of your “sermons.”
    Sending love from Joe and me to you and Janice.
    Betty Gunz

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