Monday, July 7, 2008

Living Out Prayer

I was caught by surprise when Chaplain Boykin asked me to lead a session on prayer. It wasn’t that his expectation was out of the ordinary, but I simply did not know what I would say. I felt very inadequate leading a session on prayer, knowing that I struggle with my own prayer life. In fact, in order to be truly honest I must admit that I don’t pray very often, especially on my own. I feel more comfortable praying in worship services than I do spending time at home in prayer. I often find my mind drifting, wondering how I really should pray. I stop myself and ask if I really think God interacts with the world in that specific way. I wonder why we ask God for things that are contrary to the nature of life. I wonder why we ask God to change things that happen because of bad decisions we make. I even wonder why we sometimes blame God for death or tragedy. I get really upset when I hear someone say that God “protected” their loved one from dying from car wreck or plane crash or a natural disaster when there are many other people who died from that same tragedy. Did God not protect the people who died? Did the ones who died or their families not pray hard enough? I don’t think so. Our world is a tragic place. Bad things happen, and we all eventually die. The only thing I feel like I can say with certainty is that God suffers with us through the mess.

Since my view of God and prayer has changed, I have a lot of head knowledge about what I think, but I have not really internalized or practiced prayer in a way that incorporates my theology. So this assignment turned out to be an opportunity for me to really wrestle with my theology of prayer. I had the chance to talk with Chaplain Arthur, a former chaplain at RCCW, about her thoughts. She reminded me that prayer is not necessary about my theology but it’s about my relationship with God. I don’t have to understand God to pray. She also reminded me of the importance of being quiet and asking God to speak to me.

I also read through two books on prayer. Joyce Rupp in her book entitled Prayer reminded me that we must have faith when we pray “because we cannot prove much about prayer” (10). It was comforting to hear her say that some of us are drawn to God not by “obvious passion” but by “an unnamable restlessness or a perpetual searching” (23). While I may have been passionately drawn to God before, I find that my unsettled questioning and searching is what brings me to God now. Rupp also reminded me that, just like our human relationships, our relationship with God becomes more about faithfulness instead of feelings when we grow and mature. She suggests that we should become aware of the sacred moments in our everyday existence.

Daniel Wolpert, in his Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices, reminded me that prayer is not just about a few isolated moments in our day but it is about creating a life with God and “enabling the love of God to permeate all that we do” (16). I was reminded of the practices of solitude and silence, lectio divina, the Jesus prayer, creativity (writing, decorating, cooking, gardening, etc.), journaling, body prayer, and praying in nature. After reading his book I was reminded that I can pray the prayers that I use in worship services at home when I cannot find the words to pray. I can pray through the Psalms or pray while I’m on a walk or while I tend to the flowers and herbs on my porch. I can pray as I cook or as I write or as I do other rituals. So while my mind has been expanded as to what prayer is, I find that I have not connected these things I have learned to my life. Maybe I have even been praying more than I thought. I feel refreshed from what I have gleaned through this opportunity, and I feel challenged to let what I know truly make a difference in how I live. I hope that I can learn how to live out prayer and be more fully aware of all the different ways I'm already praying.

Full Citations for these two books:
  • Joyce Rupp, Prayer. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008.
  • Daniel Wolpert, Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2003.

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