At the end of youth formation on Sunday mornings, we invite our participants to offer a prayer to close our time together. It’s voluntary – Allison (who co-facilitates the meetings) or I step in if no one else feels moved. Sometimes the volunteer is ready to go, but other times we get a question: How? What am I supposed to say?
It’s a good question: How do I pray? For many Episcopalians, we find our answer in the Prayer Book (or, as it’s also abbreviated, the BCP). It contains parts of our tradition, theology, history, and quite a bit of Scripture. I heard a joke once that if you wanted to know what an Episcopalian believed you should look in the Prayer Book. Full disclosure: I love the Prayer Book. I was raised on it. It has helped me feel comfortable far from home, in a church or community I didn’t know but wrapped in a tradition I did. There are so many wonderful prayers in the BCP, and more have been added as new needs have been felt in the Church. But it’s not the only way to pray.
Perhaps because of my attachment to the Prayer Book, I sometimes struggle when praying away from the familiar words printed on a page. I want to, but…what am I supposed to say? How am I supposed to say it? Are you there, God? It’s me, Rebecca…
I ask the question all the time: How do I pray?
If you have ever encountered this question yourself, here are two thoughts. Well, one formula and one invitation. I’ll start with the formula.
An easy way to construct a prayer is in the form of a collect. Each Sunday we read the Collect of the Week; during Holy Eucharist it comes shortly after the Collect for Purity (which at Redeemer we say all together). There are many collects in the Prayer Book – but you can come up with your own, too (could be a creative way to pray as a family, writing prayers together)!
The formula goes something like this:
Name God; in your naming, perhaps tell part of God’s story. Offer your petition, or desire, to God. Tell God why you are asking.
Here are two examples that are a little different than what you might find in the BCP – offerings for inspiration. Terry Stokes, Earth & Altar’s co-editor for arts & culture and a youth minister in NJ, has a whole series of collects addressing a range of day to day realities, both serious and silly (you can find many of them on his Instagram page, @prayersfromterry, plus an article on collect writing here). One of my favorites is his collect “For when one’s jam comes on:”
“O Christ the Lamb, this is our jam. Thy governance over all random shuffles, streaming algorithms, and disc jockeys has lovingly delivered unto us this gift. So lift us now into a moment of rapturous ecstasy, as we shred air guitars as thou didst our sins, scream lyrics with the voice of the heavenly throng, and dance like Miriam when she dropped the hottest track of the 13th century BC. And as we lose it, wouldst thou use it for our blessing and that of those around us, and let us bring a smile or stank face to thee our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns with our Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, in everlasting jubilation. Amen.”
Prayer doesn’t have to be serious – our joy and playfulness are part of our God ordained and created existence! We can pray that, too!
Another collect example is from the poet Pádraig Ó Tuama and the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland. It’s a community focused on peace and reconciliation work, based in Christian practice. This is from Ó Tuama’s book, Daily Prayer (2017, Canterbury Press):
Jesus, you shared peace
around a table of anxiety,
peace with the bread, peace with the wine,
peace in the face of the uncertain,
peace in the place of pain.
May we share tables of peace
in places of pain,
sharing food and friendship
and words and life.
Because you came to a fearful world
and found your place
around those tables.
These collects are different one another, but both are expressions of our need for God, our relationship with God, our life with God.
Ó Tuama writes of prayer, “Prayer can be a rhythm that helps us make sense in times of senselessness, not offering solutions but speaking to and from the mystery of humanity.” (xi) Prayer is God’s way of connecting with us, just as much as it is our way of connecting with God. Which brings me to my invitation….
Think about how you live your prayers.
Prayer isn’t only thinking or saying words. While Allison and I invite the participants to pray at the end of youth formation with words, that’s only one way of engaging in that connection and conversation with God. A spiritual director once said she belonged to the Church of the Long Run, because she was closest to God out running. Some of my deepest prayer is when I move from thinking to experiencing – when I stop defining things and begin living them. I live out my prayers over shared meals, on the phone with friends, dancing, singing, being still and breathing deeply. As a mentor once reminded me as I angsted over how best to pray, “You are already praying.”
Praying doesn’t just occur in a church service, or when we sit down to make time for it, though such moments are important. It is good to carve out time to be intentionally present with God! This invitation is simply to notice the ways you are already doing so, to notice some of those rhythms that already exist.
Just as the Holy Spirit is always moving in and around us, so are our prayers. So as you pray the prayers our tradition offers us, or perhaps come up with some of your own, notice the ways you are living your prayers, too.