I think prayer is a great thing. It doesn’t bug me, at all, when people tell me that they are going to pray for me like it does a lot of my friends. “Have at it!” I think. But prayer is hard! It really sucks to sit there and feel like you are SUPPOSED to be feeling something or that you are doing it wrong.
When I, uh, acceptedJesusChristasmypersonalLordandSavior at the age of 10 my former-stepfather and his new wife gave me a “teen study bible” with my name printed in fancy script on the front. Interspersed between the red-letter text were special thicker pages titled things like “Dating,” “Sex,” and “Church.” One was about Prayer. The pages were brightly colored, and they had a few scripture verses that related to the topic, a write up on what the bible has to say, a dictionary definition and then a section titled “What it really means.” I am doing all of this from 13-year-old memory right now, so forgive me if it’s a little off. Anyway, the “what is really means” for prayer said, “talking to the ceiling and wondering if anybody is really listening.”
My ex-stepfather was annoyed by that description. He thought it was rude and anti-god. I thought it was perfect. Absolutely and 100% perfect.
After I left the Assembly of God church I stopped attending church for a long time and I stopped praying entirely. Prayer was a Really Big Deal there. You had to be in the mind set for prayer, not thinking about anything else. It was really best if you were speaking in tongues. I remember a sermon from when I was in 7th grade where the minister’s wife (we called her Pastor Debbie – I don’t know she was an actual minister though) talked about how a lot of people would just rattle off a prayer at the start of the day, maybe while in the shower. And that wasn’t OK. We had to set time aside just to pray and talk with God and do nothing else. I was pretty sure I didn’t believe in God and I certainly wasn’t going to put time and faith in something who I felt had so royally screwed me over. So I didn’t pray.
I always hated it when people would suggest I pray for something. What was I supposed to do or say? “Hey, uh, God? Can you please make my life suck less? Yeah, K, thanks! Oh, um, amen.” No! I’m going to get the hell out and do something. But that’s kind of what I was taught that prayer was. “thanks for all you do, God, and can you do __ for me? Thanks!”
Sure, once I started going to the UU church here we’d have a meditative prayer thingy but it was called “meditation” and even when we had a prayer we weren’t told to bow our heads and often the prayer wasn’t really directed at anybody or anything. It wasn’t like it was a real prayer. It was prayer-lite, acceptable to the masses. Well, sure, that was fine as prayer. As long as I could mostly ignore it. Which I did.
We even talked about it during our new membership class. There were four of us in the class and one of the women in the class said “I just don’t know what to DO during the time to meditate.” Everyone else laughed in agreement. I kept up with my politely ignoring the time for meditation/prayer. I mostly stared out the Little Window.
Then I went to Phoenix. I know, I talk about my Phoenix trip FAR too much. But whatever.
At the end of my sermon about my time in Phoenix I wrote the following:
On my last night in Phoenix we attended a vigil outside the tent city jail. It was getting to be evening, I had to be at the airport in just a couple of hours. I didn’t have to go to the vigil, and part of me didn’t even want to. I had mentally checked out. I was done. Standing outside I broke down crying, leaning up against the walls of the church. I was exhausted and things seemed disorganized and confusing and I didn’t know if I had a ride to the airport anymore. But nevertheless I got in one of the big vans we had rented, and we drove to tent city. It was like somebody had hit rewind to the day before. The protesters were the same, the chants were the same, we were in the same shirts. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand and chant and scream.
So I sat. I joined a group of people who were praying and meditating on the curb facing the police department. I put a Standing on the Side of Love sign in front of me. I crossed my legs. I closed my eyes.
I prayed in earnest for probably the first time in 11 years. And then I sang. We sang “meditation on breathing” and we sang “gentle angry people” and then we were quiet again, with all the chaos surrounding us, we were quiet, with our hands outreached, folded, lifted, opened, to the universe and to each other and to ourselves.
And that was that. Suddenly I knew what prayer was supposed to, what it could be. It didn’t need to be a, “Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far far away from here.” kind of prayer. It could be… different. It could be beautiful. It could be singing and just sending good thoughts and asking the universe for justice, for love, for peace.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to get in the mindset for prayer. Sometimes it’s necessary to focus on only prayer and nothing else. But it’s Ok to pray in the shower, too. It’s OK to pray as I drive to the island. It’s OK to pray quickly when I see something awesome. It’s OK. I can pray how I want to. Or not.
Reverend Naomi King has awesome daily prayers on her blog. I love them and read them every day. She also has a fabulous post on how to pray. It’s funny and insightful and useful. I suggest everyone read it.