Prayer, a fatigued word. Draped with those wet blankets of ideas like feebleness, inaction and apathy. Prayer in 2017 brought a particularly tiresome reputation. Tragedy after tragedy, our overwhelming feeling of powerlessness rising, faithful and faithless alike knowing not where to turn but prayer alone. In response to the charge, I reflect that I’d pray much like I might toss a pebble into the pond as I happen to pass it by. A nod to duty, but secretly bored by the act and its response. Perhaps sending out prayers like I shuffle-kick a bit of gravel into a pond. Knowing the possibility for ripples, but watching an aimless splash and dimple instead. Prayers carrying the same weight as a penny tossed in the wishing well.
Troubles hound us into the new year. My people respond in frustration against prayer. Voices charge that we ought to stop praying and start doing. I think our people are right about me, at times. Prayers do nothing because in spite of my dutiful requests to God, I don’t really pray. I pray without conviction. I pray faithless prayers. I pray out of fear. My prayer is a shrinking crawl away from the sting of dire conditions, rather than an upward momentum of passion and conviction. A prayer made while inwardly succumbing to hopelessness is really no prayer at all. My prayers end with the aftertaste of giving up.
Yet this year, the theme “pray” has filled me with intrigue. Perhaps I might not achieve a glorious, lengthy, or poetic form to prayer, but I ought to at least put in the effort. In dismissing the Pharisaical prayer, may we not dismiss the intense prayer that pours out its great feeling naturally, in its duration and beauty. Prayer is not an act of apathy and impotence. It is Prayers/prayers such as me/mine that are too often ineffectual. A shift has come. Potency is building a captivated force. Intrigues of sincere prayer lift me with the unyielding surge of an ocean wave carrying me pointedly back to shore. That exhilarating dance with Mighty Danger brings me back to safety, marked with the impressions of the encounter.
I long to pray like an infant thrusts fistfuls of pebbles into the pond, with unrestrained gusto and noise. Throw them in like the child who won’t cease throwing rocks in the lake. Or fling them with the calculation and grace of one skipping stones, aiming for perfection and counting every increase. Take up prayer like a woman grasping the riverside boulders, two-handed and with passion and vehemence unleashed; jet them into the water, one upon the other. Aim to crack the former where they land. Build an island to divert the threatening chaos of the white-waters. The rings emanate in number and volume, in relentless movement, in order and elegance, in perfect circles with high rises that reach the distant ends of the water. Any of these would do, above the pithy splash of pebbles I am so accustomed to.
Mostly we have no notion how to truly impact the crises we face. Often we don’t even know how we might pray. May our prayers start an adventure of wisdom on that point. Some of us are in a unique position to impact the world, yet may not recognize it. I haven’t always prayed in the spirit of availability. May our prayers ask, where is our niche?
Some of us are uncertain of our own provision. I haven’t always prayed with a sense of trust, letting go of security in exchange for a calling. May our prayers shake fear.
Some of us are a little too practical. I haven’t always prayed in faith, believing God will move me and grant impact to the road He lays before me, at whatever scale that may be. May we pray with an ownership to our calling.
And in accompaniment to those petitions, we may continue the prayer that asks for the unhinging of forces truly beyond our control. Even such prayers as those seeking for what, and how, we ought to pray. Prayer that lends so much more than a token empathy. Praying persistently, listening, wanting, believing God will move us. Praying in recognition of the promise that God is listening, and in respect for the reality of God’s presence. This year I will pray.