Do you ever think about who taught you to pray?
I guess I learned from my mother, goodnight prayers taught and repeated over and over again. She liked prayers with a form. I think she found them reassuring.
"God is my help in every need. God does my every hunger feed."
When she was dying, she avoided her own church and had a friend take her to the Unity church mid-week. In those last months of her life, those friends committed to pray for her each morning at the same time. I found it fascinating that they prayed separately, in the privacy of their own homes.
The other thing she liked was quiet. She didn't like the hubbub of a busy church service, or the appraising looks of anyone not in her carefully chosen inner circle.
I am not like her.
On the RevGalBlogPals cruise in April, Nanette Sawyer asked us to think of things that helped us find the feeling of God's presence in the core of our beings — or something very close to that, I may not be saying it right. And I remember jotting notes on a post-it, one of which was "Praying with others."
It's not something we do a lot in Congregational UCC churches in Maine, at least not in my experience. As a little Baptist girl growing up in Virginia, I remember the whole Sunday School class praying, sentence prayers we called them. If you felt shy or didn't know what to say, you could squeeze the hand of the person next to you. So from Bernadette Lane, and other teachers, I learned to pray on my feet, to find something to say no matter what the situation, to be comfortable putting words on the murmurs of my heart that I could speak aloud in a room full of people.
I liked the way it felt, that we all prayed together.
As a pastor, I get to pray in worship almost every week. Sometimes I write a prayer, but often I bind up the themes of the day the way a florist wraps ribbon around the stems of flowers to make a bouquet. I hope the effect will be evocative, that people will hear something and feel something that brings them closer to God.
In my first church, I remember sitting in my little garret office with a woman who worked for a Nazarene congregation. She came to see me about starting an afterschool program, but somehow, most likely because of her kind pastoral presence, I told her about the job search I was in at the time. I remember that on a darkening autumn afternoon, she offered to pray for me. I remember feeling cared for, deeply, both by this person I hardly knew and by God. As she said "Amen," tears slipped down my cheeks.
I pray a lot with other people, prayers for and about them, their needs, their worries, their fears and hopes. I do it willingly, gladly, sincerely.
But when it comes to praying for myself, I find I am quite inarticulate. Many of my prayers are monosyllabic, consisting of "please" or "help!"
It helps me understand my mother's love of that prayer already formed, meant to be repeated, comforting. I can pray those prayers. In the first months of being treated for Rheumatoid Arthritis, awake at night due to the prednisone that helped so much, but made life a little miserable at the same time, I dug from memory the Serenity Prayer, or something close enough to it that repeating it made me feel less alone.
But what I really love is to pray with others, and sometimes my desire for that and the lack of it means I don't pray as much as I might should.
In this phase of my life, as I try to discern what's next, taking into account the multiplicity of personal and professional factors involved, I find I am confused and changeable. Friends whose natures are more organized recommend lists and systems, but I live by intuition, and I also know how to "con" a list of factors, for and against. I know how to con myself. Robin recommended the Ignatian method, and since I am ignorant of it, I turned to Google for further information.
First on the list: Pray assiduously.
And I suspect that means some combination of all of the above: prayers with others and alone, prayers sitting still or walking the dog or driving the car (eyes open!), prayers sung and prayers written, prayers of one word and of many words and of no words at all.
One of the other things my mother taught me was that there was always a right way to do something, one right way. I'm not sure she was right about that. I suspect God could use me in more than one place or more than one way. But it's my hope that there is a better way than others, a place I can be fierce and fabulous for Jesus, a place I can honor as many aspects as possible of my call to be a minister and my call to be, well, Songbird.
So I will pray, assiduously. Feel free to join me, wherever you are.