common prayer

On Prayer, Lost and Found

I once believed that ancient, corporate prayers were for those of shallow faith. I thought that written prayers were a cop-out for those too lazy or uncreative to pray on their own. At best, they were the training wheels of prayer—the “Now I lay me down to sleep,” prayers we were meant to outgrow as our faith deepened and swelled into something vibrantly alive. At worst, they were an indication of a faith that was not your own. A faith you’d borrowed from those who came before you. A faith you claimed because it was comfortable and required little of you.

In the church I grew up in, we often prayed out loud, everyone at the same time, a clamor of voices crying out to God together, but individually. It was a charismatic gathering where people prayed in tongues which we were taught to view as private prayer languages between a person’s spirit and God. Every prayer language was different, unique, a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence in that person.

While I no longer hold to the faith of my childhood, I have no wish to disparage these people or their undoubtedly earnest prayers. I simply reject the accompanying belief that prayer must be original to be sincere. As if a hundred “Father God, we just ask that you just…” ‘s were more authentic than St. Augustine’s prayer, “Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy,” simply by virtue of their spontaneity.

How can these old words spoken and written by people whose bodies withered away before you were even thought of accurately represent what you need to say to God today?  I once asked with scorn. And now, in this season, those ancient words have come to stand in the gap for me.

How strange, to turn from a faith where prayer was a private language of syllables that spoke from my heart straight to God’s ear, to a faith where prayer is grounded in the repetition of words set out for me by men and women who lived long before I, or my mother, or my grandmother or her grandmother, had taken our first breaths on this earth.

I am not alone in this. Many of my generation who were raised in evangelical traditions are turning now towards more liturgical gatherings. Anglican and Episcopalian churches are filling with those who long for a sense of rootedness they felt they lacked in the churches of their parents. Some have moved away from Protestantism altogether and have embraced the Orthodox or the Roman Catholic church.

I don’t know what I am right now. I don’t know that I’m evangelical and I don’t know that I’m not. In some ways living overseas has exempted me from making that decision. My local church community is a house church made up of people from various traditions and there is no label on our gathering.

What I know is this – at some point I lost prayer. I ran out of words or out of the will to form new ones. And it has been the prayers of the saints, past and present, that have given me the words I couldn’t find on my own. These words have an integrity that is entirely independent of me. These words are pillars that stand even when my faith feels frail and brittle.

I pray the words of St. Francis or of St. Benedict,  of Mary’s “Magnificat” or Anne Lamott’s “Help. Thanks. Wow.” and I find myself standing in the presence of God once again, on the shoulders of those who stood here before me.

 Image Credit: John E Lamper on Flickr.
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What’s Saving My Life Right Now

In Leaving Church Barbara Brown Taylor writes about a time she was asked to speak on the topic, “What’s saving your life right now.” Taylor says she realized this was a good question to ask herself from time to time.

My blogging friend, Cara Meredith at Be, Mama. Be, recently wrote a post answering this question (which was inspired by another blogger, Modern Mrs. Darcy) and I decided to join in.

I struggle with seasonal depression and February is often the hardest month of the year for me. The holidays have passed and we’ve returned from vacation, but it’s still cold and gray with nothing to look forward to in the near future and spring still too far off to see over the horizon. February is a month where I fight hard for the good things in my life. Writing this list of what’s saving me is a way of recognizing to the ordinary graces that get me through these days.

  1. My Yoga Pants. Yes, I know, I’m stepping into something of a hot-button area here. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it, it’s not worth it). Here’s the thing – There was Thanksgiving, then my birthday, then Christmas, then vacation and now my regular pants are like a fabric prison for my thighs and belly. But my yoga pants always love me. They stretch over my new jiggles without judgment. They whisper, “Go ahead and eat that King Cake. We’ve got you covered.” And I love them for that. (Can I just say, for 99% of women yoga pants are not about showing off our legs and butts. Yoga pants are about finding something that stretches over our legs and butts without cutting off our circulation. Amen.)
  2. Common Prayer. I started using Shane Claiborne’s collaborative book Common Prayer in my devotional time back in the fall, but I find myself clinging to it even more lately. Though they are designed to be used in a faith community (it’s called “common” prayer after all) I read the morning prayers myself each day and I find that this has helped to ground me. The book is inclusive and attempts to piece together parts of many liturgical traditions rather than just one and I really enjoy that. It has given me words to pray when I’m too tired or the days feel too heavy to find the words on my own.broadchurch_thumbnail_02_web
  3. Broadchurch. This is a BBC show that just slays me with how good it is. It’s a melancholy murder mystery kind of show that just haunts you in the best way. The second season is currently airing in the UK right now (don’t know that it’s available in the US) and thanks to using a VPN for our internet anyway, we can access it! It’s a bit torturous but so incredibly well done.
  4. blenderMy Beauty Blender. I’ve heard rave reviews about this product for a long time, but I was always kind of like, “Eh…it’s a sponge. How special can it be.” But since I’ve always wanted to be able to do my makeup to where it just looks like I have flawless skin I finally asked for it as a present for my birthday. My mother-in-law sent it to me, but the box got lost in the mail (first time this has ever happened). Finally, two months later, it showed up! I started using it. I cannot explain why this is the best thing ever, but it is. It feels like memory foam for one thing. You use it damp and just sort of pat in your foundation or concealer or whatever and it makes your face look absolutely flawless and not cakey at all. It’s seriously miraculous. I did try some similar products that weren’t the brand name beauty blenders (like the Real Techniques one) and to me there was a huge difference in the results. The real deal is worth it. I’m just bummed I didn’t find it before now.
  5. Edible cookie dough (doesn’t have raw egg – does have raw flour but I’ve eaten lots of dodgier things so that doesn’t bother me). Don’t tell my husband, but I secretly make just a teensy tiny amount of this sometimes and eat it really quickly while he’s at the gym. (shhhhh!) I admit, this is probably contributing to my needing #1 so much in my life right now.
    Cookie dough