The Power of Prayer: ‘It’s All About Breathing’

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September 8, 2020 - Greg O'Brien
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The Hot Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans on Outer Cape Cod is an inspiring place to think, write, and to talk. COVID-19 has chased all of us out of this eclectic cafe, so we now sit outside on picnic tables in the late summer sun on the lip of Cape Cod Bay. I’m sitting today over morning coffee with the Very Reverend Tracey Lind, former Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland. We’ve become good friends. I’m here to listen.

Tracey is wearing a bracelet with the anacronym: P.U.S.H. I ask her about it. Tracey, persistent in her faith, says, “Pray Until Something Happens.”

We all need that today.

Tracey preaches during the summer at the Chapel of St. James the Fisherman in nearby Wellfleet, and writes with great talent on her blog titled, “Interrupted by God.”  We’re joined in a common cause, the fight against dementia. We both struggle with this demon. A few years ago, Tracey was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, also known as frontal lobe dementia or FTD, which attacks speech, personality, short-term memory, recognition of friends, and other functions. It’s a cruel killer. Not long ago, she was the subject of a “60 Minutes” segment on CBS News discussing the disease.

Rev. Lind’s ministry has included work for social and environmental justice, interfaith relations, sustainable urban development, arts and culture, and progressive theology, a willingness to question tradition. Most recently, her ministry has broadened to include the spiritual insights and lessons she has gained from a life complicated by dementia.

Tracey is a big deal…

We’re both struggling on finding a handle on our dementias and on life today itself—the pandemic, the racism (both systemic and subtle), the riots, the hate, the violence, the extremists, the craziness. At a glance, it looks like a different world today, but if one digs deeper, lifts the covers, we’ve been here for generations. While dementia, FTD in Tracey’s case, Alzheimer’s in mine, robs one of faculties, it can offer perspective, if one reaches for it; we both work closely today on UsAgainstAlzheimer’s initiatives. As a career journalist, I’m interested in what Tracey has to say. So I ask: “What’s happening in the world, what does all this mean?” I was stunned at her answer.

“It’s all about breathing,” Tracey says, as she has stated so eloquently before. All about breathing…

In the beginning God breathed and created. Then we lost our way, and we lost our breath. And then Moses came along and showed people the way. But they had to hold their breath when they walked through the water. And then Jesus came, and the Romans took away his breath on a cross. And then the risen Christ came to the frightened disciples who were locked away in an upper room and he breathed on them, giving them new life. And over and over again in lynchings, gas chambers, epidemics, industrial pollution and climate change, we lost our breath.

The COVID quarantine ironically gave the world time to breath, to reflect, but in the middle of that, George Floyd was killed by police. And he died crying, “I can’t breathe!” And then many took to the streets risking their breath to stand in solidarity with George Floyd and our black and brown sisters and brothers. And then the police released tear gas into the crowds again taking away our ability to breath. And then many retaliated, which sent the rest of us back into locked rooms for fear. And now we are trying to breathe again together and yet apart.

That’s what these months really feels like – that we are trying to breath together and yet apart. And those of us with various forms of dementia are trying to hold onto our brains in this really crazy, mixed up world.

“So you pray until something happens.”

I’m out of breath. Tracey’s words haunt me. There’s a lot to sort out. And then there’s Jacob Blake, an African American who was shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin as he reached inside his car with his three children, and word now that five months ago in Rochester, NY, as the Washington Post reports, that a police officer put his hands on the head of a naked, handcuffed black man, a distressed Daniel Prude, who was lying face down on a damp road, as another officer put his knee on the man’s back. Earlier, police had covered Prude’s head with a white “spit hood,” designed “to protect police from bodily fluids.”

“You’re trying to kill me!” the 41-year-old man cried in a video of the March incident, first reported by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Days later, Prude died at a nearby hospital. Seven police officers have now been suspended as an investigation continues.

And thus the non-violent and violent protests continue.

As an individual politically in the middle, like many struggling with all this: I abhor white supremacy and racism; encourage righteous non-violent protests; hate violent, anarchist uprisings and looting as we have in this country today; fully endorse proper police reform; and support law and order in this country. I’m just not smart enough to figure out how we get there, other than prayer.  I am proud of the work that UsAgainstAlzheimer’s is doing to break down systemic barriers to equitable brain health and health care for Blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to get Alzheimer’s but who have less access to diagnosis, clinical trials or treatments. But so much more work remains.

While my thoughts may be a bolus of contradictions, the handle of life today is burning with inconsistencies.

Now factor in all the deaths, and deaths to come, from the demon COVID, and the world won’t stop spinning on us. So, to those of us on the dementia train, hands tied, like Tracey Lind, me, and millions more, the Dramamine appears to be prayer—prayer of all types, from all faiths. We need that.

At church on Sunday—yet another contradiction in terms, an Irish Catholic like me at a Baptist Church—the worship pastor Joe Greemore, referencing the Old Testament Book of Genesis, asks the probing question in these troubled times: “Am I my brother or my sister’s keeper?”

Says Pastor Greemore, “We have a responsibility to care for others even when they have offended us (for a range of reasons)…We are given the directive to love and do no harm…Isn’t it hard to feel the presence of the Lord, when we cannot fully feel the presence of each other?”

I’m staring down now at a P.U.S.H bracelet that I bought, with the resolve to keep praying until something happens.

Greg O’Brien is author of the internationally award winning “On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s." He serves on the board of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. O’Brien, Rev. Tracey Lind, and Daisy Duarte are part of a UsAgainstAlzheimer’s video series “Giving Voice To What Matters Most.”

About the Author

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Greg O'Brien

Greg O’Brien is author of On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s, the first book written by an investigative journalist embedded inside the mind of Alzheimer’s chronicling the progressions of his own disease. He is a member of the Board of Directors of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s.