by Annie Clarke (ARK)
When people sing in a choir together, amazing things happen. Each individual becomes part of a unified whole with a common passion and goal, raising and blending their voices in a harmony bigger than one could accomplish alone, and bringing joy and pleasure to the listener as well as each other. Incredible changes happen on a physiological level – happy hormones are produced (like the bonding chemical, oxytocin), all sorts of pathways light up in the brain, heart rate becomes regulated. There are even studies suggesting singing in a group can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
People used to come together more naturally – to sing, play games, eat meals, just be in the same room at the same time, even if nothing in particular was going on. Individual phones and computers now mean we frequently plug into screens by ourselves instead of joining others for social activities. While there is not necessarily anything wrong with modern advances, to our living spaces, forms of entertainment, even the number of people we might know and be exposed to in real time, one of the unfortunate possible and common consequences is increased isolation.
Prayer groups are one solution to this crisis. Prayer groups are not only a good way for people to come together to pray or share their faith (whether the same faith or different). They are also a starting point to remedy the astounding loneliness which has overtaken our world like an insidiously slow-acting virus. A prayer group is like a choir in some respects, in both physical and spiritual benefits. We are social creatures; we crave community, we yearn for belonging, and we deserve to have a solid support network around us.
Imagine Heaven’s perspective of a prayer group. Maybe a group of people gathered together in worship looks and sounds to Heaven like the most beautiful choir, the love and peace fostered amongst members coming closer to matching the chords of Heaven and easing the ache of the distance between our world and the one we can’t see. Heaven wraps itself around a prayer group, smothering the loneliness and anxiety of disconnection and strengthening our spiritual foundations. When a group joins their prayers together, like raised and melodious voices, the prayers become stronger, and Heaven is mobilized to work in the lives of members and their loved ones, and the wider world.
The guidelines for a Apostolate of the Returning King prayer groups are very accessible. Meetings are encouraged to take place once a month, though many groups meet once a week. The group prays the Allegiance Prayer, prays the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, and reads the monthly message together, often including silent prayer and a social hour with food and drinks or simply chatting time. Prayer groups are at the heart of the Apostolate of the Returning King Mission with 180 prayer groups and over 1200 registered members around the globe. Apostles of the Returning King gather in twos, in groups of five, or in their hundreds in homes, halls, and Churches from Washington State to London and Kerala.
Together we are stronger. Most importantly, Jesus Christ asked us to start and join these prayer groups. He must have had reasons.