A couple of posts ago I mentioned prayer and Krister's comment has prompted me to elaborate a bit more on the question of why I pray.
To start, I'd like simply like to share a bit about my journey in this regard.
I grew up in a non-liturgical tradition. So when we prayed it was largely extemporaneous and free form. More like free association. But there was a little bit of structure. You always began your prayer with an opening salutation. As a child mine was "Dear Heavenly Father." And the ending was pretty standard, "...in Jesus's name, amen." Never just "amen." It was "in Jesus's name, amen." Had to be in Jesus's name.
Between those two bookends you learned to master some stock phrases and how to string them together in a way that seemed natural and smooth. Generally, the sentiments were expressions of thanksgiving ("thank you for this day and all the blessings you have given us") and petition (as my boys pray at night "help those who are sick get well").
When I went to college a third component got added: Doxology. I was told that prayer was to be mainly about praise and worship. Which is fine, but in my tradition, where liturgical prayer wasn't used, few of the college students had mastered the language of doxology. Which meant they overused the only doxological word in their vocabulary: "Awesome." It was used over and over again. God was awesome. Jesus was awesome. The Holy Spirit was awesome. And so on. It got pretty annoying.
Right around this time I also started having faith problems. Why talk to God when you think no one is listening? As a result, my prayer life became very episodic and, truth be told, occasion driven. I prayed when it was socially appropriate to pray. But I rarely prayed on my own.
This situation bothered me so I tried to explore the prayer literature. I read Richard Foster's book Prayer and discovered this about myself: I'm not a contemplative. During periods of silence I just get sleepy. Or distracted. I even tried Buddhist meditation to help with this. (Sakyong Mipham and Pema Chodron's book Turning the Mind into an Ally is the best book I've read on the subject.) I would sit and breathe, always bringing my mind back to the breath. In and out. In and out. Sitting like a mountain...
But at the end of the day my real problem was that I didn't understand the point of prayer. God, as best I could tell, never really answered prayer. So I didn't see any point in talking into the air. And the best literature I could find on the subject, from the contemplative tradition, left me cold and frustrated.
So I stopped praying. And years passed.
But, for some reason or another, now I'm praying again. I think I had to let the whole thing stew for a time. I couldn't force it. And, most importantly, I had to find reasons to pray that were appealing and made sense to me. It took me a long time to find those reasons.
I now pray every morning (and occassionaly before I fall asleep). I've jettisoned the free association style. Specifically, I pray the Morning Office (along with the lectionary readings) from The Book of Common Prayer. If I'm under time pressure I use Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours which is based on the BCP but provides you with a shorter Order (it takes me about 20 mintues to get through the BCP Morning Order and about 5 minutes to get through the abbreviated Order in The Divine Hours). Occassionally I'll pray Compline before I close my eyes at night. Mainly because I love these words from the Compline Order:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.I love those words. I love how they pull me out of myself. How they cause me to think about all these people--happy and sad, sleeping and working--around the world. "Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night."
So the question is, how did I get to this point? How did I go from years of prayerlessness to praying everyday? As I said, I had to find some reasons to pray that made sense to me. I'll share those reasons in the coming posts.