Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty… such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the centre of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
This is of course wonderfully true just as Nouwen writes it here—and note that he is saying “being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing… confusion and uncertainty…” not “offering solutions”—but it is also deeply true of prayer.
Intercessory prayer, at least the intercession of the contemplative, does not mean presenting God with accurate analyses of the situation or the person we are praying for, nor presenting him with detailed solutions we have worked out which he is to bring to pass “in Jesus’ name.” True intercession, as I understand it, is simply being with the person in God’s presence—being in God’s presence with the person held in our love and our shared distress. As Michael Ramsey once wrote, “Contemplation means essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart.”
For me, the Jesus Prayer opens up more and more landscapes of prayer as the years go by, where our praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” leads the heart on into that deep sharing of pain, despair, confusion, uncertainty. It is, just as Nouwen writes here, “a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness…” and though it is often hard to pray this way, and our sharing of others’ grief in prayer can lead to real tears of our own, still it does lead us truly to “the centre of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.”