“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 13 of Spiritual Practice and Reflection: Learning to Pray

Do you pray? Have you ever prayed? Does the idea of praying terrify you, or fill you with calm? Do you pray by yourself or with others? Outloud or silently?

Does prayer have to be directed toward someone or something, or can you simply pray? And what do you imagine prayer is for, anyway?

In Mary Oliver's short poem, Praying, she writes:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
In my experience, this is exactly right on. For me, prayer is about paying attention, noticing what's happening around me, with other people, even in my own heart. It's about naming, and saying outloud those things that I'm noticing and feeling. It's about being in relationship with the world in a particular way. When I pray, it's hardly ever perfect, but it's not supposed to be. It's just a doorway into thanks, into a deeper place, into silence, where another voice might speak. 

When do I pray? I almost always say a short prayer before I preach...holding in a prayerful way the people who are gathering in the sanctuary and praying that I be a conduit for something larger than myself. In this way, prayer serves as a reminder...I am reminded that worship is not, ever, about me...I am reminded that people carrying hopes, dreams, and broken hearts are arriving...and they're hoping to hear something that speaks to them. 

Why do I pray? Because it centers, grounds, and holds me. There's something remarkably powerful about praying with other people. 

Does prayer change anything? It changes me, the one who is praying. It changes my awareness, opens my heart, helps me move toward a posture of gratitude. 

Who do I pray to? Life, God, the Spirit of Life, the Source of Life, the Big Mystery...sometimes I don't address anything or anyone...I just pray words of gratitude. Prayer is not a contest and there's no right way to do it. (If you're looking for a good resource on prayer, check out Erik Wikstrom's book, Simply Pray, or listen to this sermon I preached a while back: "All About Prayer: The Lord's, Yours and Mine."

Today, I invite you to patch together a few words of prayer...they don't have to be fancy or perfect...just pay attention...and give yourself a chance to step through the doorway into thanks. And if you're up for it, dear readers, I invite you to leave your prayer or prayer requests in the comments sections. 

I'll see some of you in church this Sunday, 9:30 and 11:15.


Chrystal said...

I "pray for" without necessarily "praying to"... in fact, I wrote about it on my blog too!


Nancy Jones said...

Thank you for a truly helpful posting. I'm reminded that when my grandson Alec was two, his parents began the practice of saying grace before dinner each night, specifically to help instill the notion of gratitude. Alec was invited to add his word of thanks but always declined... until one night when he tiptoed around to his father's chair and whispered in his ear, "Say thank you, God, for Fruit Loops!" (His family was big on healthy eating but had made a little mistake there in the cereal aisle.) That little prayer, actually, had a lot of the elements you mentioned today....

Again, so many thanks.

Justin Schroeder said...

Nancy and Chrystal,

Thanks for reading, and sharing your stories and prayers. Prayer can be such a powerful thing in our lives, if we understand it in new and life giving ways.

Terri Burnor said...

I grew up Lutheran and was a member of my church's "motion choir" for teenagers. We performed an interpretative-like dance (well, dance is stretching it a bit) to Christian and secular music. This was back in the 1980s. One of our most popular performances was to The Lord's Prayer, sung in rich, deep, vibrating tones of a male voice. Thank you for reminding me of that experience. I'm a UU now and don't often recite this prayer, but thinking of it in this alternative presentation truly does make it alive again.

One question I have ... In your sermon, you said that the order of service included a list of mix-and-match adjectives and nouns for prayer salutations. If you have it handy, perhaps you can post this list in an upcoming blog?