(I am writing this on a Saturday morning from the red and white checkered table in my godparents’ kitchen in Lodi. They are Lutheran with a capital L. This quote is for them as much as it is an intro to this post.)
To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.
— Martin Luther
I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer, lately. Thinking about prayer is not the same as praying, but it’s half-way there, and from where I sit that looks like progress.
I have been praying for as long as I have been speaking, for as long as I have been repeating and memorizing and prolonging my bedtime rituals. I grew up in a praying community. There were long prayers sung out in chant, standing prayers uttered over hymnals, sitting prayers whispered in silence, interactive prayers punctuated by an echoing chorus of “Lord, hear our prayer.”
My family prayed before meals and before bedtime, before long car trips and after family devotions. I learned prayers that rhymed and prayers that repeated, sung prayers, spoken prayers, prayers with words I didn’t even understand. (As it turns out “Comelore” is not the start of the common table prayer, which begins “Come, Lord Jesus…”). I learned to bless and request and to ask for forgiveness. I learned acronyms and associations and kept journals as a record. And despite all of this, I still find myself struggling when it comes to addressing the God of the Universe.
It isn’t that I haven’t learned how. It’s that I’ve learned so many ways of how, each of which directly or indirectly says something about who and what I believe God is and what an interaction with God could or should look like.
I believe that God provides. (Actually, if I’m honest, I often believe I provide–even as a graduate student working unpaid internships and living off of loans, even as a newcomer and a nomad reliant on the kindness of people I hardly know, somehow I still think I can take care of myself, but that is a construct that is being broken on a pretty regular basis). I believe that God cares for God’s creation (and I believe that includes me), and I believe in the importance of asking for what I need and being grateful when I receive it. But I hesitate to see prayer from an “Ask and you shall receive” perspective. God is not Santa. God is not a vending machine. God is not a force to be tapped when I’m out of other options.
I believe that God is personal, that God really knows and understands who I am, who I’ve been and what I’m experiencing on a day-to-day and moment-by-moment basis. And what’s more, I believe that God actually cares about these things, which leads me to believe that prayer should also be personal, that it should be intimate and candid and honest and authentic.
But I also believe that God is holy, that God is a perfection and purity that I am unworthy of addressing. I believe that God is “other,” a being bigger than the cosmos and more unfathomable than quantum physics. In comparison, I am tiny and human, prone to great error and even more prone to small ones. I am selfish and irresponsible and indulgent and weak. All of this leads me to believe that prayer should be reverent and sacred, that I should recognize the chasm between God and myself, between the holy and the human.
All of this theology, all of this talking about God and prayer and what it should and shouldn’t be, though not a bad thing, can sometimes be enough to keep me from interacting with God, tapping into that relationship and opening myself to it.
God is big and complicated and mysterious and unfathomable. It’s no wonder that Jesus’ friends ask him to teach them about that connection (Luke 11:1).
“When you pray say, Father…”
And that, dear reader, is where the conversation begins. (To continue with Part Two, click here)