Somewhere along the line, without anyone telling me, I came to believe that prayer had to be “nice.” Maybe it was praying the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” every week. Maybe it was table grace, “God is great, and God is Good…” Maybe it was a child’s association of God with Granddad. But somehow, I came to think God preferred flowery language to the stuff of my daily life. I came to see prayer as an opportunity to compliment God, thank God, politely, with utmost humility, and more than a little distance. I think in someway I came to see prayer as an act of placating an angry God, which is not actually the God I believe in.
Life, the example of people I love and respect, and my own experience of God through prayer, push back against the idea of nice, formal, distancing prayer as the only road to go. What about all the seemingly negative emotions I feel? If God wants all of me, does God want my anger, frustration, depression? I read the raw, often salty prayers of Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, and I think “yes! yes! that’s my prayer too!” I see Martin Sheen as President Bartlett railing at God in the National Cathedral and my soul is seared. Or this quote, from Anne Lamott.
“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.
― Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
I love the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. I do. I also love the prayer of the abject tax collector, “Lord, have mercy on me on sinner.” It’s simple. It’s raw. It’s honest. It invites me to think deeply about my own prayers, and the heart behind the words. This Sunday, we’ll explore together the honest prayer of the tax collector, the flowery bragging of the church leader, and more voices of prayer.
I’ll see you on Sunday,
PS. The fire alarm is up and running! They just tested the horns and strobes. We’re back to business as usual.