Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pray tell

Hello. I am an antiquated person who does things wrong, such as posting posts way longer than anyone would read without any real effort toward Pinnability. Nice to meet you! :) Rebekah

I get flummoxed by popular perceptions of prayer, by which I mean, people seem to think they pray a lot. You sure bout that? Prayer is hard, it is a discipline, it is deliberate. It is not "the hopes and the dreams of all."

A medium time ago, I watched Bruce Almighty, a movie in which "God" and "prayer" are central concepts, though our Lord surely is not. Prayer is actively portrayed once in the movie, at the end, by Jennifer Aniston. As I remember it, she gets weepy on her bed with a pillow and asks "God" to help her get through something hard.

I was fascinated by this scene. How does someone with a personally invented creed come to the point of actually offering a prayer? That point is so pointy. It is truly an act of faith to speak to someone you don't KNOW exists. It proves that you are certain enough of things unseen to do something that would otherwise be the height of foolishness. It differs from going to church because at church you are sharing the risk with other people. Praying privately has the same feeling you get when you fall on the ice behind your house with no one else there. (One Epiphany I did that with a King Cake. Cake totally stuck the landing.)

So prayer is an expensive thing to ask of someone, or at least, it is an expensive thing to ask of me. I know it shouldn't be, and I know I'm terrible, but there have been times when I've felt very burdened by someone's request for prayer. Especially if the request is from someone I don't know well, or on behalf of someone I don't know well or at all, I've sometimes wanted to say:
"Dear Christian, I am nowhere near as good as you. There have been vast stretches of my supposedly really Christian life when I have barely attended to prayer at all. I often struggle to begin my day even with the smallest of prayers. I hate days when all I do is shoot up sporadic selfish petitions which amount to little more than asking God to give presents to some of my friends. I am straight-up ashamed when someone else talks about praying for something daily. So, to be honest, I'm probably not going to pray for that problem of yours I don't really care about when I have such a hard time praying for the things I care about more than anything."
And then there are all the thank yous for prayers that are "working," and people calling you a prayer warrior, and so many other prayer-related ideas that just sit funny with me  . . . .

I don't even know if it's allowed to be as bad at praying as I am. Is it better to pray in an impious posture than not to pray at all, or does an irreverent position indicate that I'm not really serious about praying and therefore cancel out the whole thing? If I pray hungry and end up thinking about a banana the whole time would it be too spiritually tacky to just eat the banana first and be able to focus? If I pray the prayers of my heart, was it my good heart or my bad heart? Etc.

I'll try to say a few helpful things. First, all corporate worship is prayer. If you went to church, you prayed. If you went to your school's or VBS's chapel, you prayed. Family prayers are also prayer. Meal prayers are real prayers, not just something we do to look more Christian. Those things count.

But I am still mostly talking about personal prayer. I totally did not understand prayer books when I first learned there were such things. I learned to pray the American way, which is to say, making it up as I went with the primary goal of keeping it real. The trouble is that real me is real dumb and also impossible to distinguish from not-real me. 

So when I hazarded to open a prayer book, I learned that their prayers did not sound much like my "real me" prayers. The two I came to rely on most, Starck and Loehe, were in some ways even MORE about me than "my" prayers had been. They went on and on about my sins, something I had spent time on in the past but not nearly as much as I'd spent asking for, well, presents for my friends. But in going on about my sins, the prayer books ended up going on FAR more about Christ than my own prayers had ever done. They were worshipful and confessional (broadly speaking) and jammed with Scripture, if I knew my Scripture enough to recognize it, and if I didn't recognize it, they were still teaching me to pray with the Wordful words of God. I have found prayer books really helpful for pray-er's block. I use Loehe more than anything. And while I'm doing commercials, why is it so easy to forget that Psalms is the church's original prayer book which, being inspired, will never expire? Psalms! Pray them!

My colossal impiety is surely operative in my thinking that a lot of people who think prayer is natural and/or easy don't really know what prayer is. I know that telling myself I pray all day long is, for all practical purposes, a just plain lie (maybe someday it won't be if I ever learn how to/ make myself really pray, but for now it's a lie). I know I probably shouldn't have written any of this since I still haven't read that Kleinig book, but I probably shouldn't have ever written anything.