Prayer: A Poem
It doesn’t matter how you pray
Or if you pray.
What matters is to see the leaf turn
And the last rose of summer.
Or that your eyes are filled with the night sky
Or the chipmunk in the rock wall.
To hear the sound of the chickadee
To smell the mown grass
Taste an apple from the tree
Or a grape fresh from the vine
To hold a dying woman’s hand and
Weep with the orphan and widow of war.
To let your heart and breath and senses
And your pure and confused mind be
Filled with wonder and compassion
Imagination and gratitude,
And humility for the gift you have been given.
That would be prayer enough.
But to see everyone and everything
Through the eyes of God and Jesus
Or Siddartha or a holy woman, some
Eastern and ancient saint or goddess,
To see with God’s eyes
Experience with God’s beating heart
One would open to the wonder,
The reality And pain
Of the other and of you
And you would never hate again
Or turn away.
Prayer someone said is like going to a dance or going off to war. It is being in such a close relationship with the divine that you can beat on God’s breast for justice or redemption, or claw ones way to God’s feet to beg for healing or forgiveness or both. Prayer is a cry of the heart. It is not something nice and well worded, it is not necessarily the kind of elegant words that come from a book.
There is no nice guy or girl here. You can rail at God for the injustice of the world, the loss of innocent life, the stupidity and its resultant consequences for the poor and powerless by leaders of the world. I yell to God in my car while driving on the highway. God hears the cries of the widow and orphan, of the afflicted and those suffering in pain or from injustice. We should in our prayers never give up pounding on the door and the heart of God. God can take a beating. Look at the sorrow of the world, it is over that world that God sheds tears.
We are universally timid in our Prayers of the People. Maybe we need to shout out our grief more; our sorrow, our thanksgivings, our cries for justice and against injustice and killing and the horror of war. Our voices together raised in a shout of praise or petition, unafraid to beat on the very doors of heaven to hear us. We need our prayer to be courageous, outrageous, outspoken. This kind of prayer is called petition and intercession, asking God for something or for someone or something else. It’s the kind of prayer we tend to do most in church and in the quiet of our rooms. It is what the widow is doing before the unjust judge, petitioning the judge to give her a hearing.
Another kind of prayer is Confession. Confession is important and necessary for health. To be able to tell someone, a trusted confidant, a priest, a therapist with your deepest and darkest secrets, is the necessary step toward healing and restoration. One of AA truths is that we are only as sick as our darkest secrets. Telling someone is often a liberation through which change can begin.
Confessional prayer is also a time when we are forced by life, relationships, history, and culture to examine who we are and how we behave toward each other and to ourselves. It shines light on our own brokenness and the brokenness of others and of the systems around us. It drives us to the kind of inner change that leads to new life and it confirms us in the truth that God is merciful to us and blesses us. It can move us to a place where we can forgive others and ourselves and to make restitution.
Confessional prayer is the great informer, the place of inner struggle and truth. We are naked before God. There is no hiding. All we have is our own pure truth and lies, our beauty and our deception, our wisdom and our ignorance and blindness, our loving kindness and our hardness of heart. It’s all there ready to be taken out of the closet of our inner life and presented in all its messiness to God. Like the widow persistent for justice before the unjust Judge. And Yet God who is Just will hear her cries.
And justice does not come, not always, because the cries of the rest of us are so blinded by our own obstructed need that we have no time or vision for the need beyond our noses. We are like the unjust judge. Few can claim of never finding themselves in that role, trying to ignore the cries of the poor and the powerless. Elie Weisel who survived the death camps of Europe said that the ground of evil is not hate, it’s indifference. What widow whose pleas for justice have you heard? What widow in you, cries to be heard?
Indeed one has come among us. The woman splashed with acid by her husband, and you heard and saw her and you were if you were like me informed and horrified at the cruelty of one person to another. We need to continue to raise our voices against this kind of cruelty, the hidden cruelty of domestic abuse. Prayer is not only an inner conversation with God. The response of God asks, “What are you going to do about it?” You are my hands and my feet and heart in this world. I depend on you. And you and I need to respond, I will do such and such, I will make some noise, I will cry out, I will go and comfort and respond.
Sometimes though our response may be, “the time is not ready; I have to attend to an inner life that I failed to nurture by my laziness or occupation with too many things. I need to be still and Know You God
More about that later.
Thanksgiving: Native Americans say that all prayer is Thanksgiving. If we were able to give thanks for all things, to see the holy in everyone and everything, in every encounter and situation; that would be prayer enough. As a practice it opens the heart and mind to help us see how God is working in creation, among nations and peoples and in our lives. If we were to live less out of our complaints and more out of the abundance we have been freely given, we would find joy.
So prayer is like going to a dance or going off to war. What then is the dance of prayer? Each of the kinds of prayer I’ve been describing has elements of both. The restoration of the lost, the healing of relationships, the healing of a loved one, the breaking of a destructive habit are a cause for celebration and dance.
There are still those kinds of prayer that take us directly into the dance of God. These prayers are adoration, praise and oblation.
Oblation is the prayer of giving ones life and service to the love of God and creation. It’s doing whatever you are doing for the love of God. If you wash the dishes, dig a ditch, birth a child, run a corporation, or a nation, to do it for the love and service of the holy. You may see how everyday life can become a prayer and a dance.
Or praise: They say when you sing you pray twice. So we sing. My mother wouldn’t sing because her brother teased her as a child. Since that day I don’t remember hearing her sing. So we sing for her, for all the silenced voices, for the pure love of the beauty of sound and the combined voices, and the words that have been put to music and the poetry.
And adoration: This prayer is meditation, adoration and praise which is what the poem in the beginning is about. It’s the prayer where one meets God. It is like the priest who said,” I just talk with Jesus and He talks back to me.” Or the other priest who prays and talks with Jesus while he sits on the cellar steps and looks at his dog
As we participate in the dance of prayer we discover the presence of the holy; That space where you and God are so conjoined that there is no obvious separation, you are one, undivided and holy trinity. You and God and all creation. Here in the dance and the heart of God we may find Jesus with us in our bed one night and experience the sorrow of God and take God in our arms and give comfort and let God rest and weep. The deep hurt of the world is so much greater than most of our worries and ills. It is the Christ that witnesses it and waits for a response.
It is here that hearts are lifted in praise and adoration. When our hearts are not like thanksgiving, but filled to overflowing with gratitude with the life that we have been given, when all the cries of the heart are received by the love and mercy and compassion of the holy. To be able to live with God and when you get there, Letting Go, To not hold onto God like a possession, but as a gift to be given away and shared and tended and loved and set free.
We need more time for silent prayer as well. Not rush through them like we tend to do in congregations. And we need to shout Amen when we like a point in the sermon, to encourage those who get up and take off the bindings of their soul in front of you each Sunday.
Our life is a blessing: As the great Rabbi Heschel said, “Just to live is a blessing. Just to be is holy.” It is to have a prayer constantly on our lips. “Come holy One, Open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”
You don’t have to pray, but if you’re going to pray. Do it. Pray as if your life depended on it. Whether you pound on the door of the unjust judge, or go off to war, or whether you are still and silent in a grove of trees or the chair that overlooks the busy street. Pray with all your heart. And remember the great resource of the tradition that gives us the great prayers: The “our father”, the psalms, the prayers of the hours. So that in those times of dryness you don’t have to come up with something yourself. Ideally, the times of going off to a dance or to war with God is a daily , even hourly cycle. Each time responding to and nourishing the other. In the morning one begins with centering prayer: Listening to the heart beat, rising before dawn to be in the stillness of the morning and the first stirring of birds: A lavender-pink or red sun rising, Stretching out, breathing in the presence of the divine. And use the daily prayers our great traditions have given to us. Use them as a template for your own prayer. Take advantage of the gift of prayer in community that Susan offers here.
Whatever you do and however you do it, even looking at the last leaf of the summer as it falls off the tree, that kind of opening to the wonder and amazement as well as the hurt of the world, opens us to that realm where God is and lives and gives us being and lives through and in us.