Prayer and Soul Care

The practice of prayer is perhaps the most future-orientated and therefore hopeful soul care practice of all, linking the present to eternity.  

Pastoral theologian Eduard Thurneysen contended that there was no proper soul care without prayer. In many ways, the act of soul care is a lived prayer seeking as it does to bring hope into despair, light into the darkness, life into existence and grace to futility.

Prayer is tangible and hopeful. Desires expressed in prayer give voice to the hopes and longings of the future.

Thurneysen, a Chrisitan pastor, viewed his ministry of visiting with parishioners as an act of hospitality. His soul so extended into listening that it assumed the form of intercessory prayer. He drew upon Philippians 1:3-6: “Whenever I think of you, I offer to God my prayer and thanksgiving for you.”1 He describes a “full listening… without a single word passing our lips.” The type of hospitality that he spoke of accepts the speaker as they are and draws them into a kind of solidarity – neighbourly love – flowing out of the spiritual life in Christ back towards God-given life.

Thurneysen’s understanding of prayer in soul care had three aspects. Firstly, “it is a prayer for myself as a pastor, for purification and illumination of my spirit, a prayer that I may become the true instrument of the Spirit of God.” Secondly, it is a “prayer for my neighbour; it is intercession.” The third form is prayer with the other. Thurneysen noted that wisdom was required as to whether or not this third act of common or shared prayer was appropriate. Thurneysen explained that for God to be at work in this context was a work of his own free grace. In a sense, it is an act of daring on the pastoral carer’s part even to take initiative in the process of prayer. In Thurneysen’s words, “The circumstances will decide from case to case whether I may and ought to pray with another person.”3

Caring for another involves being wisely attuned to what might be taking place for themselves, the other, and the working of the Holy Spirit through the soul care process. “Prayer is therefore always a step that leads beyond all boundaries into the realm of eternity. For it is actually talking with God, really God, really being heard by God and listening to God. Hence prayer is the final destination of every way, the deliverance from every distress, the fulfilment of every petition.”4 From a human perspective, the carer facilitates a conversation between the other and the Heavenly Father in prayer, depending upon the Holy Spirit, in the name of Christ Jesus.5

Through prayer and faith, the soul carer foresees hope and a possible future through love and forgiveness through the power of a love that bears all things, suffers all things, believes all things. Thurneysen felt strongly that neither prayer nor hope were practices to be employed simply for therapeutic ends. Instead, these arise from the Christian faith and are anchored deeply in Christ within the soul of the carer.  Prayer in this context is not a therapeutic practice but a radical act of hospitality whereby the horizons of the present have been opened out and are inviting the inbreaking work of the Heavenly Father.

For this reason, prayer must not be forced, manipulated or coerced by the soul carer. There is a complexity in the offering of prayer in soul care practice, and the practitioner must be alert to the possiblity of overreach when taking an initiative that may only belongs to God. Yet, prayer might be the very means to shift ordinary conversation beyond the breach into a truly divine-inspired soul conversation. 

The soul carer is an agent of hope; there is no hope left even when humanly speaking. Such longings and prayers present the other with a glimpse of the eternal horizon of significance from which the soul carer ministers. Thurneysen believed, therefore, these qualities of wisdom, hope and prayer and needed to be cultivated. No matter how effective listening is, it can never “replace the decisive act of prayer.”6  Prayerfulness of the soul carer for the other is of such importance that it could almost be equated with soul care. In fact, as Thureysen expressed it, “The practice of soul care and prayer are actually one and the same. Soul care is prayer.”7

The attitude of prayer can move a conversation from the horizontal plane of human concerns to the vertical dimension of the inbreaking of the Word.

1 Eduard Thurneysen, (1946) Theology of Pastoral Care, 128, 197
2 Ibid, 195.
3 Ibid, 198
4 Ibid, 197
5 Ibid, 197
6 Ibid, 190
7 Ibid, 190
Image by Couleur Pixabay

Author: Pastoral Thinking

This web-page is a place where chaplains, pastoral and spiritual carers are encouraged to think both deeply and laterally about the world we live in, and the pastoral care we provide.

One thought on “Prayer and Soul Care”

  1. Thank you again for this week’s blog Prayer and Soul Care! It resonates powerfully with me and also feels validating and encouraging for both my philosophy and practice of soul care in my hospital work. Thank you for introducing me to Thurneysen too! Ros

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