I don’t remember how I first learned about prayer or how to pray. I guess it was as a small child. I was taken to church. I went to Sunday School, although could never figure out how someone could ever get a perfect attendance award – no way!
I learned “Now I lay me down to sleep…” a rather depressing prayer if you think about it for a young child in a society where most children never experience death close-up. The Lord’s Prayer was better – but what did “hallowed be thy Name” mean? One school child exclaimed indignantly, “My name’s not Harold. I’m Fred!”
I watched my grandmother pray by her bed when I visited, and we said grace at meals – but only on Sundays and Thanksgiving or special occasions. Oh, yes, and when the minister came.
As I grew, I learned a bit more about prayer, especially when I really, really needed something or urgently called for help in an impossible situation. I would pray for my family and friends and some of the needs in the world. And, of course, there were long prayers at church that the minister said. (I was not raised in the Anglican Church, so in my church only the minister said the prayers as we bowed our heads.)
I learned a bit more when I was confirmed. But in university, I discovered the Anglican prayer book, and I took off. So many prayers for so many things and situations. I started to pray daily, and have done so for close to 50 years.
But I still had more to learn. The daily office of Morning and Evening Prayer with the Psalms and scripture readings have nurtured my life; they are how I understand the God I pray to and the world God loves so profoundly.
In seminary, I learned to meditate in silence and was introduced to the practice of contemplation as ways to listen to God in the (usually oblique) conversation of the heart.
I knew the pattern of prayer: Adoration, Praise, Intercession and Petition, Thanksgiving, Confession, and Oblation, although some were much more frequent in my play list than others. It took me a while to realize that something that I had always enjoyed, classical music, could be an entry point into God’s abiding presence. And how did it take me years to understand that the Psalms I was saying daily covered that whole range, and were not simply another passage of scripture to read but the prayer book of Jesus and formed the core prayer of the Church through the ages?
So yes, I can now affirm that my prayer is not only an ever-increasing listing of all the concerns I have for the world, the Church, my friends and colleagues, my enemies, my own needs, my shortcomings and offences for God to quickly fix at my insistence, but also includes adoration of the Trinity and praise of God’s graciousness and thanksgiving for God’s love.
It’s so much more than just me and Jesus having a private chat. Prayer is an ongoing, dynamic dialogue between God and me within the company of the saints, the Church in which we are changed and transformed by the conversation, the encounter.
Prayer makes a difference – sometimes as dramatic as a lightening bolt, sometimes as nuanced as a shift in light that changes the perspective, sometimes as unnoticed as character shaped by small choices made over a life-time. But prayer will change things, and it will change you.
This past Lent, I invited you to join with me, and many Christians around Canada, the U.S. and beyond, in a journey of “Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John.” Several thousand of you throughout the diocese did. I learned a lot about myself, my colleagues and Jesus.
Now I would like to invite you to join with Anglicans and other Christians throughout the world in nine days of prayer from Ascension Day to Pentecost (May 10-20). “Thy Kingdom Come” asks individuals, families and parishes to pray for their friends and communities to know Jesus. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby wrote, “I cannot remember in my life anything that I’ve been involved in where I have sensed so clearly the work of the Spirit.”
Resources for prayer, activities for individuals, children and families, suggestions for parishes are available at www.thykingdomcome.global. Take part and you will learn something new about prayer and the power it has to change things – to change you. You’ll deepen your relationship with God and share that gift with others.
The thing about a relationship is that you are always learning new things, sharing new experiences, deepening (or not) your commitment. We can never think that we’ve got God all sorted out. If you do, you have begun to worship an idol – not the living, ever-creative God who is revealed in Jesus and his abiding Spirit, who wants you to know him and rejoice in his love for you and the world.