UP – Prayer

I could not count the number of worship services or prayers meetings I have attended, been part of, or even led. Sometimes these are wonderful experiences and provide opportunity to find some way of ‘connecting with God’. Sometimes these gatherings of fellow Christian’s are life affirming and full of joy, others are as dull as waiting for a late train on a damp night after a long day at work and seem to take forever. Many times I have laughed or rolled my eyes at the predictable nonsense I have heard or experienced, such as a prayer that is bound to give me the giggles…

“Father, God, I… Jesus you, Father, God, Father, Father, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, you, Jesus, Father God, Jesus, Amen” [Yes this is an actual prayer, often much longer and said with sincerity and fervour].

I would not describe myself as a competent prayer and don’t judge the quality of language used by others (I particularly love the prayers of children) but I would encourage silence and listening rather than nonsense. Gathering with others is not the only way to connect with God or develop the Up relational dimension but it can be useful because we can learn from others – through listening, watching, and even mimicking until what seems and feels alien or bizarre becomes natural and affirming.

Child looking up to parent - holding hands.

A few years ago I read the hilarous account of A. J. Jacobs who decided to live according to the Bible for a year – to the extent of clearing out his wardrobe so no clothes woven from 2 different threads were left, stoning a stranger in the park for blasphemy and even having his son circumcised. It was funny but also insightful – it highlighted some of the contractions those of religious persuasion make when picking and choosing words and sentances to give more importance to than others. It also celebrated many of the positives of faith and religion.

I recall Jacob’s account of learning to pray. Initially it was wierd and unnatural so he used prayers written by others. Gradually he began to say his own prayers.

“Day 64. A spiritual update: I’m still agnostic, but I do have some progress to report on the prayer front. I no longer dread prayer. And sometimes I’m even liking it. I’ve gone so far as to take the training wheels off and am testing out some of my own prayers instead of just repeating passages from the Bible.”

By the end of the year it had become an important and healthy habit. As he reflects on the year or living biblically Jacob’s reflects,

“I come away from this year with my own cafeteria religion [the idea of picking a choosing the bits that work for you]. I’ll be doing things differently that I did thirteen months ago, things both big (resting on the Sabbath) and small (wearing more white clothes). And I’ll keep on saying prayers of thanksgiving. I’m not sure who I’m thanking, but I’ve become addicted to the act of thanking.”

I don’t find prayer easy. I can’t think of a particular person that has taught me to pray or modelled pray for me. I have learned over the years how to communicate with different people (parents, grand parents, siblings, teachers, employers, employees, friends, colleagues, strangers, dignitaries, children, and so on and so forth) yet despite a lifetime of church attendance I’m still unsure about communicating with God yet there are moments. Somehow there is liberation from the things of this world, like the freedom and release of swinging freely without a care in the world.

Young girl on swing silhouette

Sometimes I have heard or read the most eloquent words of prayer. Sometimes the most passionate and heartfelt cries to God. Sometimes the quiet and simple words of genuine love for God. There are plenty of places to discover prayer and worship but I have grown fond of the Northumbria Community. They offer a rich array of daily prayer resources and draw me into a pattern of habitual, yet refreshing worship. The following words are Taken from Evening Prayer from Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer published by Collins:

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

There is something about the expression of belief in the face of darkness, weakness, hunger and silence that somehow lifts my spirit. Along with these words said daily are space for silence, meditation and additional prayers. It is not the only way to pray, but having a guide or a mentor to learn from proves helpful to those new to pray but also gives us the words when we feel far from God.

Music, art and nature also feature prominently in the Up dimension of spiritual relationship…

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