Jack Layton on the prayers sent his way

How prayers lifted the NDP leader’s spirits after his last cancer announcement

The sight of Jack Layton, so thin, telling the country yesterday that he is again struggling with cancer, and, even more, the sound of his voice, so changed, will have many sympathetic Canadians feeling the urge to somehow express their best hopes for his recovery. But how?

I’m pretty sure Layton wouldn’t say no to some prayers. Early last month, when I interviewed the NDP leader for this profile, he talked about prayer in recounting what he experienced after he held a news conference on Feb. 5, 2010, with his wife, Olivia Chow, to announce that he had prostate cancer.

“When Olivia and I made the announcement,” Layton said, “I came home that night and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m feeling here. I shouldn’t be feeling like I’m feeling. I’m feeling almost like a joyful feeling.’”

He described his upbeat mood that night, just a couple of days after doctors gave him the news that he had cancer, as “bizarre,” and that he didn’t know what to make of it until the following day.

“I woke up the next morning and there were all these emails and phone messages of people praying for me. I realized that what must have happened was that as people saw it on the news, they were thinking of me in some way, and in many cases sending prayers, and from many different faith backgrounds, too.”

He went on: “I heard stories later about it. There was a sweat lodge that was organized in Northern Saskatchewan. There were prayers at the mosque. There were many, many prayers at churches and cathedrals.”

This prompted me to ask Layton if he considered himself a religious man. (I had already talked to him about the central importance in his childhood of the United Church in Hudson Que, where his parents taught Sunday school and his father later ran a youth group.)  He answered: “Spiritual for sure, and more so now.”