Today on Good Friday, with all its connotations of death and renewal, I thought it appropriate to consider Jesus’s use of prayer circles as a mystical healing power.
Several years ago, when trying to discover an antecedent for the extraordinary healing I was witnessing in Power of Eight® intention circles, I stumbled across an old sermon by the nineteenth-century British Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon discussing the meaning of certain passages in Acts, the narrative of how the apostles built the early Christian church.
Spurgeon focused on Acts 1:12–14, which relates the story of how the 12 apostles of Christ essentially carried out their first prayer meeting.
They’d returned from a journey near the Mount of Olives, close to the old city of Jerusalem, and headed to an upper room, where they all engaged in prayer.
Many biblical scholars conclude that the New Testament was written in Hellenic Greek, and, according to Spurgeon, Saint Luke, a Hellenic physician and reputed author of Acts who may have been present during some of the events, chose to use the Greek word “homothumadon” to describe their method of group prayer.
Homothumadon is mentioned 12 times in the Bible, mainly in Acts, always to describe the nature of the apostles’ prayer. The Authorized King James version of the Bible translates homothumadon with the anemic phrase “with one accord,” but Spurgeon maintains that homothumadon, an adverb, is in fact a musical term, which means “striking the same notes together.”
Elsewhere it has been translated to mean “with one mind and with one passion,” and Spurgeon takes it to mean that the apostles prayed “unanimously, harmoniously, and continuously.”
Even that latter definition does not convey the depth of the original, I discovered when I looked up the definition of homothumadon.
The Greek word itself is a compound of two words: homou, which literally translates as “in unison” or “together at the same place at the same time,” and thumous, which means “outburst of passion” or even “rush along,” and is often meant to convey intensity of some sort: “getting heated up, breathing violently,” even wrath.
When combined, the two words evoke the musical image of, say, a Beethoven symphony, of notes that race passionately along in different ways but blend in pitch and tone to perfect harmony, building to a climactic finish.
The word emphasizes that apostles were to pray as a passionate unity, with a single voice.
“Here is an overlooked secret of the early church,” Spurgeon notes. “Over and over again Luke stresses that what they did, they did together. All of them. United and unanimous.”
According to Spurgeon, Jesus considered prayer a communal act. He wanted his apostles to pray together, with the same thoughts and words—like an intention stated together.
The nineteenth-century American Presbyterian pastor and biblical scholar Albert Barnes said homothumadon emphasizes that the apostles were operating “with one mind. The word denotes the entire harmony of their views and feelings. There were no schisms, no divided interests, no discordant purposes.”
Jesus may have suggested this, knowing that the apostles were about to face a huge struggle in mounting essentially a religious revolution.
Many of the church’s scholars are convinced that Jesus specifically used this kind of small-group prayer as a blueprint to assist the apostles in teaching members of the early church in the preferred new way to pray, and as a sign of Christian fellowship.
British clergyman, dean of Canterbury and archdeacon of Westminster Frederic William Farrar suggests that Jesus deliberately taught them to pray in this manner to have them move away from “mere individual supplication: “The disciples had long before made the request ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Luke 11:1), and during the three years of association with Jesus, the form given them as an example may very well have grown into the proportions suited for general worship.”
This would suggest that the plan was for the members of the fledgling church to pray as a group, of one mind and heart.
Presbyterian minister and former US Senate chaplain Lloyd John Ogilvie believes that the new Christian “movement” was meant to make use of a new type of communal prayer. “In their early goal to build the church, they devoted themselves to prayer together. More than physical proximity, this meant a spiritual unity.”
Undoubtedly small prayer circles had been an essential part of the early formation of the Christian church.
In fact, small intention circles may have been employed, if not invented, by Jesus Christ.
Many of the references in the Bible about the apostles mention an act of group healing.
In Luke (9:1), Jesus gave his apostles “power and authority . . . to cure diseases” and sent them on their first missionary journey together from village to village in Galilee “to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick,” and Saint Matthew also noted that when sending the apostles forth to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel,” they were to “heal the sick.”
In Acts, a “multitude out of the cities” traveled to Jerusalem “bringing sick folks,” and “they were healed every one.”
I thought about the words of the eighteenth-century British Methodist biblical scholar Adam Clarke, who once wrote this about homothumadon: "This word is very expressive: it signifies that all their minds, affections, desires and wishes, were concentrated in one object, every man having the same end in view; and, having but one desire, they had but one prayer to God, and every heart uttered it.”
It may be that homothumadon is the state of mind necessary for a healing intention circle that is carried out in Christian churches as a practice without a full understanding of its special power.
All this suggests that Jesus understood the power of group prayer and was passing the idea of it on to his disciples.
Or maybe, as I believe, he was just trying to say that God is within every one of us, but that power gets amplified in a group.
I looked up the biblical Greek word ekklésia, which appears in the Bible some 115 times but is apparently mistranslated in the King James version as “church.” A closer translation is a “called-out assembly or congregation of persons who meet with a specific purpose—a group with a unified purpose, united into one body.”
Church in those ancient times did not mean the building itself or even a vast organization, but just a small assembly, like the apostles, who were “called out” to meet and pray as a passionate unity.
This “called-out assembly” exactly fit my definition of a healing circle.
In fact, homothumadon and ekklésia are perfect metaphors, I realized, for a Power of Eight® group: a batch of individuals passionately praying together as a single entity, thinking the same healing thought at the same moment.
When people are involved in a passionate activity like a healing circle, they transmute from a solitary voice into a thunderous symphony.
Whatever your religion, may you find your healing tribe and be healed and renewed this holiday weekend.
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