To say that I want to talk about prayer, does not mean that I am bragging, or saying that I am an expert at prayer. I want to share with you a gift that a mentor had passed on to me, that has been life affirming and faith shaping for over 22 years of my pastoral journey.
But first, a few things by way of introduction and one that may shock you. For clarity’s sale, I will say that I am talking about Christian prayer and sharing my personal experience (and opinion).
Here is the possible shock, I might as well “rip the bandage off” now and you can decide whether or not to stick around for the rest of the story.
I went to Catholic kindergarten and there were both Catholic kids and Protestant kids in that class. When we began to learn The Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer), I said the words that I heard, which were “psss psss, psss, psss, psss” Somewhere along the line I must have learned the actual prayer.
I went to public school after that and this was the 1950’s, 1956 to be exact. My teacher, Mrs. Ellis, read from the Bible and led us in the Lord’s Prayer, but it had that different ending (For thine is the kingdom, etc, and I found that very confusing).
To be honest the whole thing, the Bible reading and the prayer felt awkward, and I felt out of place in ways that my first grade mind could not express.
For that reason, and a few others that I will share, I am not a fan of “bringing back prayer in public schools.”
Now, all the people who know me and know that I am a pastor, may have already left the room. I am hoping that wasn’t a door I just heard slam. Bear with me, please. Because there are important questions and considerations that follow.
First of all, whose prayer? Christian prayer? Jewish Prayer? Muslim? Buddhist? Other types of prayer? And who is left out and made to feel strange and awkward when their tradition is ignore, or belittled?
I am not opposed to prayer in public schools because I am afraid of offending anyone, but because I think it can cause more confusion than it helps.
We put more than enough on teachers and this heavy lifting, I believe, belongs to family homes and houses of faith. This is no time to be passing the buck, er, responsibility.
Second, I certainly believe that God hears our prayers and hears the prayers of children, but I also believe that prayer is meant to be a two way conversation, that is built on a relationship with God. For that reason, I think it needs to begin and be formed at home and church, synagogue or mosque, or run the risk of being watered down and uninformed.
A lot may depend on one’s definition of prayer. I had an Anthropology professor in college, who stated that prayer for Christians “is asking for stuff, or asking for something.” Her implication was that non-Christians tend to be more spiritually minded and thus she saw Christian prayer as limited.
I wanted to argue with her, but I did not for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she was speaking to her own experience of Christians and Christian prayer. Even though I disagreed with her definition, I could not devalue her experience. Because she was referring to her experience, and because she was the professor and I was a new forty-something year old college student, I was not sure I would be heard, and arguing about religion serves no one. (In my opinion).
Despite the tradition of separation of church and state, you may be surprised to find a good bit of prayer language in our court system, but it is not what you may think. To petition the Court, or to make a prayer in a document, is simply formal language that does “ask for something.” Perhaps the professor had a point.
The flip side of this, and it is kind of funny; I was in college to complete work on my Bachelor’s Degree, so I could go on to seminary, I was serving three churches as a pastor. In church, everything begins with prayer, council meetings, Sunday School, church suppers, and of course Sunday worship. It felt really odd to be in classes at the university and not begin with prayer!
There is a lot of prayer that occurs on the campuses of our colleges and universities, during the high holy days of exam weeks, but of course, that is different. When I got to seminary, there were lots of opportunities to begin classes with prayer.
The Gift of Prayer
It was during those days in college, as I tried to find a sense of balance, that a mentor introduced me to the concept of journaling prayer. She shared with me a book that had been published posthumously by the writer’s son. It was a book of prayers, letters that his mother had written to God.
I have never successfully journaled or kept up with a diary, but this appealed to me. All I remember of the original book was that the prayers were in the form of letters to God, so that is what I do. I have developed my own pattern, that I will share with you, but there are no real rules that I know about.
I use ordinary, inexpensive (read cheap) composition notebooks. I write my name on the outside cover with the words “Confidential Prayer Journal” and the start date. When I finish that book, I add the end date and grab a new journal. Because I have been doing this a long time I do try to buy Composition books with different colored covers, just for variety.
Now and then some helpful person gifts me with a more formal journal and I say thank you and use it, but the Composition books stack more easily. I generally keep the most recent journals, in my office, the rest are stacked on a shelf in my clothes closet.
I have always felt that I can say anything in these journals and that is very freeing. Since it is prayer, and not a diary, I try to do the following:
Every new prayer begins with the date written out, no numbers and slashes. The next line always says, “Dear God” because that is how I generally address God.
I believe that it is prayer, and that God reads as I write, or hears. I do not know how God does what God does during prayer. I am just responsible for my part. Even though I feel that I can say anything, including question, complain, express doubt, anger and frustration, because it is God I am speaking to, I keep all that respectful.
I do not abbreviate or use acronyms. Does God know what all that means? Of course, but I am writing a letter, a prayer, not a memorandum or a shopping list. I try to begin with thanksgiving and I try to be specific. Every day when I pray, among other things, I thank God for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.
If I have to interrupt my prayer, I say, or, write, “excuse me.” and return as soon as I can. When I first started writing my prayers, because they were in the form of letters, I always signed them, Love, Michele. Eventually I stopped doing that, because, well, God knows it is me. But there is something comforting about the form and format of a letter and it seemed…thoughtful and personable.
While this is not the only way I pray, it does make up the majority of my prayer time. I am not very good about praying in the same time and place every day, so there are times that I add the time to the date. For instance, if I have let my day get away from me and don’t sit down to pray until 11:35 p.m. I write that in.
While this form of prayer will not work for everyone, if you are feeling stuck in a rut in your prayer life, it might be helpful. There are other things I do to keep my prayer life fresh, but this has become a meaningful practice for me.
If prayer is a regular and important part of your life, how has the form of that prayer changed over time? Do you have favorite ways to pray?
Remember, nothing is written in stone, except The Ten Commandments!
Not holding back the tide,
Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com