Saturday, January 26, 2013

Any Which Way You Can (A Post on Prayer)

I've been reading Anne Lamott's little book on prayer, "Help. Thanks. Wow:  Three Essential Prayers" lately, and considering my own prayer life, which has had its fits and starts over the years.

I don't consider myself the world's best pray-er.

I don't consider myself the world's worst pray-er either, though.

I have a decidedly eclectic approach to prayer, myself, though not exactly as irreverent as Anne Lamott.  For example, I don't think, like she does, that it doesn't really matter at all what we call God (she has a funny bit about someone who calls God "Harold," as in "Our Father in Heaven, Harold be thy name," though it's a well-known bit to many church-goers.)  I think there are many good names for God, and probably a few bad ones, too.  There *are* actually unhelpful ways to imagine God.  On the other hand, her utter honesty with regard to her own spiritual deficiencies is essential, and may be the one thing everyone needs to know about prayer.

This is an endorsement for the no-holds-barred, totally free-wheeling, honest prayer, just telling God whatever is on your mind.  I'm all for that. Be honest.  Don't try to be too pious.

We try to keep it simple in confirmation.  Like Anne Lamott, sometimes we just do one-word prayers.  We say thank you, and then simply tell God what we are thankful for.  A couple of weeks ago I asked them to just offer up a name of someone they wanted to pray for.  They've known each other for awhile now, and they all had a person they wanted to pray for.  That's all you have to do.

I'm all for keeping it simple, and honest, and saying what's on your mind.

But, I'm also for the by-the-book, beautiful, centuries-old prayers of the past.

Because sometimes, you know, Paul is right, and I really don't know how to pray as I ought.  Sometimes I'm being all "honest" and sounding all colloquial and one of my favorite prayers, something that another person thought of, before I did, will be the best prayer I could ever pray.

Yes.  It's sometimes like that.

Anyway which way you can:  that's the way to pray.  Pray the prayers in the book, speak in tongues, say one word, write prayers in a journal, draw prayers in living color. Sing.  And any other way you can think of to pray.  And, oh yes, listen.  Silence is a good prayer.  It's a sort of expectancy, not-knowing-what-comes next, but thinking that something will.

I have three (at least) favorite written-out prayers.  One I learned from our Matins service.  I could say it all the time.  I'm not sure I would think of it on my own, but whenever I pray it, I think, "this is really what I need to ask for."

*O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.*

The second is in our hymnal as the "general intercession."  One summer I was printing a prayer, or a way to pray ever week in our bulletin.  One week I printed this prayer.  One of my parish members had the bulletin in her purse when she went to visit her mother, who was dying.  She pulled it out, and prayed it.  She told me this.

*Watch, dear Lord, those who wake or watch or weep, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, rest the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous.  In your love,  give us all this, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.*

The third one is the Old Sarum Prayer, "God, be in my head, and in my understanding....."  And I'll tell you why I like it.  One year, during Lent, we decided to teach a prayer to the congregation.  We had a signer and there were a couple of families who who had hearing loss issues.  So we learned this prayer, and said it, and signed it, every week.  The last week we did not say the prayer, but we only signed it, in silence together.

God be in my head, and in my understanding, God be in my eyes, and in my looking, God be on my lips, and in my speaking, God be in my heart, and in my thinking, God be at my end, and at my departing.

There are many ways to pray, for that I am grateful, because I am not the world's best, or world's worst pray-er.  I just flail about, any which way I can, and the Spirit helps me in my weakness, with a word, or a sigh or a song.  

God be at my end, and at my departing.