What to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Pray

This morning I received one of those gut wrenching emails, the kind that stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away. The heart breaking news the email contained left me speechless and not knowing what to do next. The email asked for prayer and I wanted to honor that request but I found myself asking the question, “What do you pray when you don’t know what to pray?”

A number of years ago, a good friend introduced me to the Celtic Book of Daily Prayer (Northumbia Community). One of the most meaningful portions in that guide is a section called Caim Prayers. Whenever the ancient Celtic felt threatened physically or spiritually they used the Caim, or ‘encircling’ prayer. The Caim involved both a spoken prayer and a simple ritual. The Caim is an act of faith in asking for God’s protection, and is simply an acting out of a spiritual reality – that God hears our prayers and answers them.

The Caim prayer ritual includes one or more of the following:

(a) draw an imaginary circle around them in the air as they stood. Extending one or both arms, index fingers pointing out and revolve clockwise once and then recite a Caim prayer, or

(b) they would draw a circle on the floor with a stick and recite a Caim prayer (or a modern variation would be to step into a circle of white stones (each stone or pebble, say, about the size of your thumb or at least smaller than a fist) and at the end of the prayer you might take one white stone in remembrance of the prayer and God’s faithfulness.  A white stone symbolic in the Scriptures, as something given to ‘overcomers’, or

(c) a person would enter into a ‘circle’ of friends, linked together by their arms/hands, and recite a Caim prayer.

While this may seem a bit odd to us moderns, trust me, there is something powerful in enacted prayer.

What do you pray when you don’t know what to pray? This morning, while I could not be in my friends physical presence,  I encircled them in my mind and heart and offered this simple Caim prayer on their behalf:

Circle (name), keep hope within and despair without;
Circle (name), keep light near and darkness afar;
Circle (name), keep peace within and anxiety without;
The Eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit shield you on every side. Amen.

Who in your life needs to be encircled by the Great Three in One? Why not pause and pray for them right now?

Stay connected…


  1. Sherry W. says:

    …O Christ my light
    O Christ my encircler.
    Guard me in your night,
    Keep me in your light,
    Each day, each night,
    Now and for evermore,
    Now and for evermore. (from The Open Gate, David Adam)

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