I’ve been attending church my entire life. My dad was a pastor and there were times it seemed we practically lived at church. There were Sunday morning services and Wednesday night choir practice, board meetings and youth group, Christmas pageants and cantatas, Summer camps and all-church picnics, confirmation classes and sunrise services. I was born into family of faith and as a child I slipped into believing like you would a large coat. Easily and without much effort.
With an easy-come faith came easy prayers. I was taught how to pray as a young girl in church and I recited my prayers faithfully throughout my childhood. Fellow children of the 80s and 90s might remember ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. It was a well-intentioned instructional on how to talk with God but for me it became a formulaic fill-in-the-blank for conversing with a God who was still little more than a cosmic vending machine. Those ACTS prayers were meant to be a springboard for a kid to jump into meaningful conversation with God but I somehow failed to launch.
Only in my 20s did I begin to notice that my prayers weren’t much more than murmured incantations; the recitation of words well memorized but now bereft of much meaning. And the old way of praying was so ingrained and imprinted upon me that I found it difficult to do it any other way. I had to look for new ways to commune with God and I found it the difficult flexing of long atrophied muscles.
I told you what it’s been like having Gryffin and Isaiah pray at meal times. Those two are just getting started, just on the brink, ready and eager to learn how to pray and I’d like to spread a wide swath before them. I’d like them to know some of the countless ways we can listen for God, talk with God, feel God, exult in God, give thanks to God.
Nowadays I sometimes like to use candles when I pray. To light a candle as I hold a thing or a person or a plea before God. To let the flame, my prayer, burn before God even as I walk away to attend to other things. And leaving it lit, I return to the prayer repeatedly as I come, time and again, back through the kitchen.
Other ways that have proven meaningful for me lately have been the reading of already written prayers, whether ancient or recent; poetry, particularly about nature; books like Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott, My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman and Diary of Private Prayer by John Bailie; breath prayer; and writing out specific things for which I am thankful.
In an article about prayer in Real Simple, of all places, Kate Braestrup explains the Jewish prohibition against speaking or writing the name of God which holds that it is actually impossible to write or speak the name of God because, “the name of God is the sound of breathing. Breathing in… breathing out.” She goes on to explain that the essence of prayer is therefore “so uncomplicated: just your breath, moving into your body and flowing out again.” So prayer can also just be sitting in silence, alone or with somebody else, inhaling and exhaling and, “saying the true name of God the only way there is to say it.”
So when I’m struggling to find the words or the will to pray, I can just breathe. It’s interesting to think that I am always breathing. You are always breathing. My boys are always breathing. Perhaps all of life is a prayer, whether we are cognizant of it or not, and I need only teach Gryffin and Isaiah to joyfully acknowledge it as so and then allow them the space to see what else springs forth.
A couple of my favorite quotes about prayer…
If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.
–a la Anne from Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery.
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God-
it changes me.