By Pastor Kathy Hawks
Long before I knew the theology of it, “Grace” was the prayer we said before a meal when I was growing up. We held hands and always said exactly the same thing: For health and strength and daily bread, we give thee thanks, O Lord. Maybe the repetition is why Grandpa Hawks would often mischievously mix up the words or steal our plates while we were praying.
Grandma Hawks, on the other hand, loved her hymns. And one of the hymns she would sing with gusto was, “Sweet Hour of Prayer”…that calls me from a world of care…In seasons of distress and grief my soul has often found relief…by thy return, sweet hour of prayer.
“Lord, Teach Us to Pray”, is our theme this pandemic Lent. And don’t we mean it? Don’t a lot of us feel awkward when it comes to praying? “Whatever you do, don’t ask me to pray out loud in front of anyone else!” Or maybe we feel kind of sheepish because we’ve never managed to make prayer a daily practice, and we know we “should.” Or, you do say daily prayers, but they’re so familiar, you’re done before you can connect with the meaning?
Well, even though they were disciples, Jesus’ followers asked for his help praying, too. We know Jesus’ answer was to give them just one prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. But, he also says:
Don’t give up. (Luke 11:5-8)
Ask, knock, search. (Luke 11:9-10)
Don’t pray to impress others, as if what they think of your prayer matters; pray privately to God, who will hear you, no matter how hidden away you are. (Matthew 6:5-6)
Don’t worry about fancy phraseology when you pray. Your Father knows what you need before you ask. (Matthew 6:7-8)
Jesus followed his own advice. He prayed for those who came to him in need, but he would often go off by himself to pray – in a boat, in the wilderness, on a mountain – whatever it took to connect with God the way he needed to. He prayed directly and practically. He called God, “Abba” – Papa, or Daddy – Hardly standing on ceremony. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he persistently prayed three times, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup [of suffering] away from me. But nevertheless, your will be done.] And on the cross, he was incredibly almost offensively honest with God, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?!”, then he prayed for his enemies and betrayers, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing”, and finally, he died, praying like a child going to sleep, “Into your hands, I place myself and my spirit.” What an emotional roller coaster of prayers marked his painful last hours!
We can take heart from Jesus’ honest prayers, and also, like my grandma, from musical prayers. How about Holden Evening Prayer? Or the Taize prayer chants? Or really any of your favorite worship songs or hymns?
Sometimes the simplest prayers are the best way to connect with God. Just one sentence can be enough: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Or, like Anne LaMotte says: Thanks! Help! Wow! In Romans 3, Paul says: In the same way, the Spirit helps us…We do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans (another translation: sighs too deep for words). Even silence can help us be available to God.
Another old hymn sums up what matters in all prayer: Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire.
My prayer this Lent is that we will all keep learning to pray, and find it a rich source of wisdom, solace, hope and trust in the God whose love is beyond our imagining,
Note: Consider these differing types of prayer:
- Centering Prayer. Silent and thoughtful. Relaxing. Let God’s presence speak to you. Focus on one word of your choice (or the leader’s choice).
- Prayer while holding beads or an item in your hands. Keep focus on your prayer thoughts by touching the (stone, cross, rosary, fabric…)
- Walking Prayers such as Pilgrimage, Labyrinth, taking a walk in nature, or moving to specific locations to say specific prayers (such as Stations of the Cross).
- The JESUS PRAYER. Repeat many times: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
- Prayer with background music; while singing a repeated phrase; chanting; drumming.
- Body Prayer: various hand positions, kneeling, yoga poses. I demonstrated one: “In the name of the Father (stand up straight, reaching up with arms and hands toward the sky). In the name of the Son (arms at shoulder level, stretch out to make the shape of the cross). And the name of the Holy Spirit.” (Hug yourself, and cross one leg over the other. Then switch arms and legs.) Hold the three poses a long time if possible.
- Doing art—draw, paint, collage, color, knit, pottery, beading. It is good to have a favorite Bible verse or one word/phrase to think about. Then just explore creating. Take time to let God inspire the shape and colors of the art. Be calm as you receive ideas. It is OK to “Make a mistake.” It will turn out well as the mistake turns into something new or unexpected or wonderful.
- Breathing mindfully. Inhale and exhale calmly as you consider that God is giving you life. Sometimes breathe in thinking a simple phrase like “God loves me,” and exhale thinking, “I am part of God’s gift of creation.” Some prayer books, hymnbooks, of even words written on greeting cards can give ideas for this kind of prayer.
- Write a poem or Haiku or in a journal. Express yourself with words that express your feelings, ideas, fears and hopes. Re-write something that has already been written, but that you want to change or improve.
- Illuminate or illustrate a favorite Bible verse. Decorate the page or write the words in a fancy style.( Use the Lord’s Prayer, or a Prayer of Saint Francis, as starter ideas.) I used books by Ruth Chou Simmons such as Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart.
- Pray with a partner. Each person says a few words of prayer, taking turns, and offering prayer to the other person if they are in need.
- Group prayers. A bunch of people pray about the same thing at the same time (often in the same building, but that won’t work with the pandemic). Prayers for World Peace, Racial Justice, or World HIV/Aids Day are examples.
- Intercessory Prayer. If someone has a need and cannot pray for themselves, they ask someone to pray for them (as you know).
- Daily prayers such as table grace, bedtime prayer, morning devotions, before driving in traffic…
- Spontaneous Prayer in a time of surprising joy or sudden emergency. Just blurt it out. AMEN!
- Praying in a special place (gravesite, garden) or while wearing something special (prayer shawl), with candles lit, in a chapel or at the altar. This changes the “usual” setting of prayer and causes someone to think more about the place or event or special clothing to allow a different focus. A different voice in prayer.
- Nature/creation inspired prayer: look out a window, go outside, go to the beach, take a hike, pick up and look at a leaf/flower/shell/moss…Wait.
- Prayer chain.
- Email devotionals, or computer searches to find writings by a specific person of faith or a certain topic.
- Visual praying. Look at photography, stained glass windows, paintings or books (for example, Mark Batterson’s book Praying Circles Around Your Future)
Thanks to Stephanie Running for this list.