November 9, 2012


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about asking and hoping, and how sometimes it seems like an impossibly hard thing to do. (Maybe this has come from a few conversations in Mysterious Fiction class…thinking about mysteries like missing children, or cancer that may or may not come back…things that I have never had to work out in my own life.)

The other day one of the readings for morning prayer was the story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman, in 2 Kings. Elisha tells the woman that in a year, she will hold a son in her arms. She, who has wanted a son for so long, responds, “Please, don’t mislead me.” Of course, Elisha hasn’t misled her, and the baby comes. But then, a few years later, he dies.  The woman, in “bitter distress,” says to Elisa, “Did I ask you for a son? … Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”

It is scary to accept good things, because they could be taken from me, and it is scary to ask for good things, because I may not receive them. It seems much easier to accept things as they are, and much less foolish. Praying for change is so often labeled naïve, or idealistic, or lazy, or entitled. And I understand that view of prayer, because I have often felt the same.

So it has been good for me, on the first Sunday of every month, to see the same people approach the altar for healing prayer, over and over again. The same people go and kneel and wait to be anointed with oil, and we all pray the same prayer for each of them, for their bodies to be well. Many of them have been kneeling and waiting for years before I came to the church. There has been healing, but mostly lots of waiting. And always asking, over and over again. It’s a form of humility, I think.

Working the earth

December 2, 2011


“If I don’t struggle to pray regularly, both privately and corporately, if I insist on waiting for inspiration on the dry days, or making sure I have the time, then prayer will be as impossible to me as the C minor Fugue without work.”

The Summer of the Great Grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle

I think I have shared this quote on here before, and I have come back to it this week in thinking about prayer, specifically the practice of Morning and Evening Prayer within the Anglican Church.

Later on in her book, L’Engle also compares praying to writing, an analogy I find more applicable to my own life (as someone with no musical abilities whatsoever). I am in fiction class right now, and it didn’t take me long to learn that trying to complete one story a week by writing only when I feel inspired is impossible. In fact, though I have found pockets of time when I feel like writing (15 minutes here, 15 minutes there), almost all of my stories this semester have been the result of sitting down and writing when I felt nothing.

I consider it a rare gift that each time I have sat down and started typing with a bad attitude, I have found my way into the rhythm of the story and, by the end, felt relieved and joyful and (sometimes) giddy. I say “rare” because, if writing really is like prayer, I know there will be days when I feel nothing all the way through.  Like prayer, the struggle won’t always be immediately rewarded with a feeling of closeness to God or self-realization.

In Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris shares that “the ancient monastics recognized that a life of prayer must ‘work the earth of the heart.'” I think there are a lot of reasons this metaphor is fitting, one of them being that when you plant a seed, you do not see the fruit of your work immediately. Of course, we are not the planters, but we are, in a lot of ways, in charge of the soil. And this takes patience and discipline.

The purpose of recited prayers is not to stifle genuine engagement. They might cater to passivity, but only when I abuse them. To pray words already written involves effort, a submission and conforming of the heart that is easier on some days than others.

Henri Nouwen says,

“Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature.”

 This is why after Confession comes Thanksgiving, why after The Creeds comes intercession.

I have found that instead of being burdensome and regimented, practicing Morning and Evening prayer has, among other things, taught me about grace.

When I have been lazy or angry or careless and have not stopped to pray, there is tomorrow morning.

When I am too empty or angry to form my own words, the words on the page remind me who I am, and they become my own.