More so than perhaps even the mystery of God is the mystery of prayer. At least that’s the way it seems to me. I am content to speak of the mystery of God by stating only that “God is…” Beyond that I really cannot go very far. Anything else that I might say would border on the idolatry of my own human construct. But prayer…….prayer is something I want to know about, learn how to do, order my life around. It should be a human experience, at least in part. But much of what I have been told about prayer just doesn’t seem to wash. It doesn’t hold up under the hot rays of life. Nothing much seems to change when I pray. When I question prayer, I sometimes finding myself questioning the God to whom I should be praying. All that can’t be good, can it?
I like what Anne Lamott says about prayer, namely, that there are only two kinds: “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” and “Help me, help me, help me!” I might add to that a bit. Seems like “I’m sorry!” “I love you!” “Be with me/us!” and “Wow!” also qualifies as prayer. And maybe those days when we simply cry out “Oh My God!” either in ecstatic joy or unbelievable pain also is prayer. On some days, St. Paul touches it the best for me when he speaks of how we just “groan”, but such is known as prayer.
Surely we are beginning to understand that prayer does not rearrange the universe to our liking. Cemeteries are filled with people who prayed. So are hospitals and prisons and battlefields. Divorce courts are still open and DSS still take custody of children. Storms blow through randomly despite what Pat Robertson says. Some of the saddest words ever uttered are “I prayed” and the end result didn’t change.
Maybe it is best to understand that we pray not because it works or we expect a dividend in return but rather that it’s just what we do. We can’t help but pray. And is that wrong? Maybe our focus on prayer needs to be not our speaking, but our listening. Maybe our praying will not change any circumstance, but it might just change us. I cannot imagine our continuing to pray for someone that we despise and it not change how we feel toward them. But that is a hard, scary step to take. It might turn us into a forgiver and unforgiveness is a powerful addiction.
And then, as I have tried to say and understand for myself in more recent days, some days we are the answer to our own prayer. If healing needs to be brought to a situation, we are the wounded healers. If something needs to change, we are the power behind that change. If an aspect of life needs turning around, we are the ones who can live in such patient endeavor.
Lord, teach us how to pray. It surely must be a lifelong lesson.