I have prayed with and for a woman—with no one else present—on the phone or in person over two thousand times beginning in 2002. In prayer, with another woman who was not my wife, I have known shared fear out in the open. I have known shared trust, shared power, shared closeness, shared joy, shared abundance, shared beauty, shared secrets, and shared vulnerability. I have had considerable experience of shared “nakedness” (provocative but appropriate metaphor) with another woman when no one else was within eyesight or our hearing.
I have also known shared longing with a woman. One of the most authentic expressions of prayer is to articulate a longing for God's presence, a longing for God's help, a longing for spiritual connection, a longing for justice, a longing for divine beauty, a longing for abundant life, a longing to break free from shame. We have shared tears in our yearning for God's beauty as we prayed with and for one another. I have heard on many occasion, my female friends' deep desire to be known by God and to know God; I have also heard their deep desire for me to know Jesus as my ultimate friend.
It's important to note that starting out back in 2002, when I began to pray for women, I prayed within my wife’s hearing so that mutual trust could be cultivated and nurtured. It was only after many, many months that I ventured into praying with and for a woman when was no one else was around and that happened because of mutual knowledge and trust.
I have also witnessed a woman's tears and longings to know God as the Liberator and Healer as she has encountered aggressive evangelical male leaders in communal settings. To hear their “naked” suffering and their longing for wholeness, relief, and liberation in various scenarios over the years. I think of a woman as we shared longings for her to know God as she encountered Mark Driscoll's abusive leadership. That's just one example. I can think of several other examples in her life as well as my other female friends. Female friends I have prayed with and for on a regular basis and also prayers for women expressing longings in the prayer ministry in our church.
Through the years my prayers with a woman and for a woman have matured and expanded. My prayers are some kind of intuitive combination between myself, Jean Vanier, Leanne Payne, Henri Nouwen, Patricia Lamoureux, Dan Allender, James K.A. Smith, Joan Chittister, Elizabeth Dreyer, David Schnarch, Jonalyn Fincher, Kathy Escobar, Robert Augustus Masters, Wendy Wright, Sarah Coakley, Susan Ross, and others. If you are evangelical or protestant, some of these names are not familiar with you because they are Catholics.
In prayer time, I always aim to be aware of God’s beauty, albeit imperfectly through my lens and my own puny experience and knowledge. But insofar as I have learned God’s beauty in these relationships, I pray into the beautiful trusted openness between a woman and myself. Praying with and for a woman alone, I discovered not with a textbook knowledge but a deep inner authentic knowledge of beautiful humanity shared between a man and woman before God.
Some women I have prayed for mirrored that beauty back to me in their own praying. Some have not. That’s okay. But for the particular women who have mirrored back the fullness of beauty in our prayers together it’s a beautiful openness of safety, peace, shalom, delight, strength, resilience, and healing. Indescribable shared beauty, well-being, enjoyment, shalom.
At some point in time there was this gradual shift in trust for me. I had a deep knowing of what it was like to be alone with women that the evangelical male-dominated culture greatly feared. Pick a popular and respected male evangelical theologian/pastor/blogger. All of them had great anxiety to be alone with a woman who was not their wife. I don’t know if this shift began with my spiritual wrestling match with David Fitch or before. God bless’em, I respected them but none of these popular evangelical leaders could give authentic accounts of being alone with a woman in a practiced vulnerable openness. Oh, they were all respected for their group or communal wisdom. But alone with a woman over a significant period of time with no one else present practicing a vulnerable openness? They had no experience. They had no experienced maturity to speak into male aggression or female manipulation in paired relationships.
When evangelicals hear that a married man is alone with a woman and they are committed to vulnerable openness and they are meeting alone to have intense conversations, evangelicals anxiously assume this inevitable slippery slope toward the dominant narrative of masculine eros where women are perennial sex objects, where their “no” has little bearing in the face of masculine lust, initiative, and power; a masculine eros that has a super fragile male ego which boasts of this helplessness on the one hand, and unilateral entitlement over women's bodies, women's choices, women's body parts on the other hand; a narrative where women have no full yes to desire a more beautiful openness to deep human connection when men are near them. This masculine eros is known as evangelical patriarchy. It alienates men and women. This is also known as the “Billy Graham rule.”
At some point in time before 2010, my trust shifted. I was now in the evangelical culture (the "Billy Graham rule”) but no longer of it. I began to look at men and women who were psychotherapists, counselors, and such who met with the members of the opposite sex alone. Sure, it was a “professional” relationship but they were gaining ascendancy in social trust with members of the opposite sex in a way evangelical male pastors and theologians were not. Seven or eight years later, I have no regrets in this shift. I love Jesus. I love my wife. I love my female friends more than ever. I love beautiful openness where both men and women can share in appropriate risk, a vulnerability of unguarded presence in shared trust.