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Does it matter how we learn to pray?

On the drive home from Conference on Sunday, Valerie and I had some wonderful conversations...or at least we tried to. M and K have a (sometimes maddening) tendency to burst forth with a story they can't wait to tell us, just as we are wading into the deeper waters of our own conversation and we never really pick up the same threads afterward. I really do feel blessed that they like to share with us, but...every now and then, when we are having a particularly interesting discussion, I find myself frustrated and thinking: "arrgghhhh, can't you two amuse yourselves and let us talk in peace for longer than ten minutes at a time??!!"

Anyway...one of the interesting conversations we started was around prayer. I mentioned that one of the other facilitators had told me about a prayer writing workshop held at her church, and wondered if our prayer team would find such a thing valuable. Valerie's response was that such a workshop must be the Presbyterian side of UCC coming out, because those with a Methodist background would never need to be taught how to write a prayer! She said that in the church family in which she was raised, you could be asked to lead prayer at any time, and you just did. The idea of having to be taught how to pray seemed rather bizarre to her actually. I must say her freedom to pray from the heart has long amazed me, but I thought it came with ministry and practice, I hadn't known it grew through her upbringing. I wish our church's spiritual oversight committee would not insist on prayer being led by people from the congregation. I'm sure they mean well and assume people must want to participate by offering their own prayers, but often I find myself tuning out because their scripted words simply don't reach me in the same way Valerie's spontaneous prayers do. Uh oh, it seems I am a prayer snob!

Having said that...I still think a prayer writing workshop sounds pretty cool. I told Valerie that it is harder to offer an unscripted prayer if you have not been brought up to do so all your life. I imagine a little structure and/or help with the language would enable many to feel far more at ease voicing prayer in a group setting, especially when the group is full of those also not raised in an environment where unplanned prayer is the norm! And really, does it matter whether we learn to shape spoken prayer by growing up in the right environment or by attending a workship? Perhaps I am not the only prayer snob in the family! ;) Surely the important thing is being comfortable sharing your prayers with others, and how you reach that comfort level is irrelevant. However, I absolutely concede her point that United Church people in Nova Scotia seem to be very restrained (repressed even!) when it comes to praying. Which, come to think of it, makes me all the more inclined to accept that we need help relaxing into prayer. The first step on that path just might be a prayer writing workshop.

Any attempt at a verbal conversation with God feels awkward to me. I don't really pray in a way that resembles a "Dear God" conversation, it's more like sharing a connection that lifts me and brings me peace. It's being filled with the presence of something infinite, glorious, intense. It's bursting with joy and wonder, hope and gratitude, and feeling immeasurably blessed with all I have in life. It's feeling inspired to help others. (Even if the helping is as simple as volunteering to be a youth facilitator at IAC.) Words might form in my mind when I am in darkness..."O God, please give me the strength to get through this"...but even then, the true prayer is keeping my heart open to allow the love and strength of God to carry me through life's aching, heart breaking, weeping with pain moments.

So trying to articulate the words of my heart out loud to God in the presence of others would be a self-conscious nightmare for me! In fact, I cringe at the very prospect. The only way I would ever participate in the prayer part of worship would be to read the words of others, or a somewhat generic prayer of my own that I'd written in advance...would a prayer writing workshop help with that? Who knows, but I'd be open to finding out. Maybe after writing and sharing a few structured prayers, I'd grow more comfortable writing "free verse" from the heart. If not, no harm done, but if so, my church might have one more voice of prayer...and can that ever be a bad thing?

Comments (4)

Kathy (trekcapri):

Hi Anne, interesting post! You describe things and thoughts so well and I always find what you say so enlightening.

Thank you for sharing and have a great day today.


Oh Kathy, what wonderful comments you leave, thanks!

I'll be posting about the actual IAC experience soon, it was both inspiring and exhausting! :)


Wow Anne, I think it is past time for you to write that book! Your writing talent astounds me (not least because it comes so easily to you) and you have certainly honed your craft with this blog. Furthermore, your ideas are very insightful. I had always envisioned a work of fiction from you, but now I think that a philosophical treatise on the role of religion in our modern lives would be the very thing. You have lots of personal experience to draw on and you have given the subject much thought. I do believe you should get cracking. Bet you'd get interviewed by the CBC!


Aw thanks Lynn, you make me blush! :)

Alas, my knowledge of religion and its broader impact is minimal at best, so I'm afraid a book on the subject would be way out of my league. Unless I quit my job, go back to university and write it as a thesis or something...which actually would be an awesome thing to do, if only I could afford it! Are there any full-out scholarships for middle aged women with no claim to scholastic fame beyond a 25 yr old BA in psychology, I wonder? :)

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