Prayer is the most important thing I/we do. It is also the thing I feel least skillful at doing. These reflections are in part a response to Johan Maurer’s recent blogs on the topic (“Experimenting with prayer” and “More on prayer”). I write as a fellow-struggler in prayer, not an expert (such a nasty little word!), and I invite others to share their insights and struggles, because this is so important.
I write at a time in which I find myself in the middle of more crisis situations that is reasonable for one person to bear. And so I find myself throughout the day praying the Jesus Prayer in its briefest form, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy!” (Mercy on me, on whomever I am praying for at the moment, on different situations, and so on.)
Last Sunday (a week ago now) in unprogrammed worship, I got some insight on how to expand this cry to God. The centering Scripture for our worship was Psalm 136, that ancient liturgical prayer with its repeated refrain, “His mercies never cease.” So all this past week, to my cries for mercy I have added the affirmations of the psalmist. And, while I still sense the weight of the burdens I bear, a small and hopeful lightness has come into my prayers.
As I pray over impossible situations, I often find myself meditating on that mysterious image of creation in the first few verses of Genesis—the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos and darkness, waiting for God to say, “Let there be light.” I ask for the same Spirit to lovingly hover over whatever chaos I am holding up to him. I imagine the Spirit hovering over specific people and situations. I ask him to hover over Pakistan and Afghanistan. I ask him to hover over me.
Most of all, I pray the Lord’s Prayer, understanding that at its heart is the cry for the kingdom of God to be made manifest in the specific circumstances of life. It is asking that the future fullness of the kingdom come into the chaos and confusion of this present moment. I barely understand what I am doing as I sit in my chair praying this way. It’s audacious, almost arrogant. I’m sometimes asking for impossible miracles. And I just sit there, wearing ordinary clothes, sipping coffee, petting my cat and praying these extravagant prayers. What right do I have? Shouldn’t I at least be wearing a crash helmet? Shouldn’t I be more afraid?
I’m hesitant to write and post this. I have not been an exemplary pray-er. These past few weeks I have staggered through my prayers, sometimes sensing mostly desperation. The cry for mercy has been constant, especially when I don’t know what else to say to God.
Oh yes, there’s that other biblical prayer, straight from the mouths of the often befuddled disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Yes, Lord, please do that. Amen.