Prayer and I have always had a somewhat ambivalent relationship. Naturally, having been a Christ follower for many years, I have heard a LOT about the subject. I’ve always known one should pray. And I love Jesus so much. I really do. But I’ve always found prayer so boring. In my teen years I did everything a good Christian should do with regards to prayer. I had a wee book with a list of things to pray for everyday, complete with colour coding for each category. Or maybe it was a ranking of importance in case I ran out of steam halfway through. But either way, I found it to be a dry and life-sucking experience. I even timed my prayer times at one point. Because that’s how much I felt like I had to make myself stay in the prayer zone. And it was indicative of how much I didn’t really want to be there. I’m sure it even crossed my mind at some stage to make space amongst the shoes in my wardrobe to literally have a ‘prayer closet’.
As my journey continued, I experienced a freedom from the legalism that had previously marked my faith. I was no longer acting under the compulsion to do a list of things in order to feel like I was achieving status as a Christian. This was, of course, not an overnight thing, but a process over many years. The result of which meant that I no longer felt like I HAD to pray. I remember reading Anne of Green Gables for the 121st time, and one particular part of the story standing out vividly. Marilla has finally decided that Anne is going to be allowed to stay at Green Gables. In order to avoid the rest of the town knowing how much of a heathen she is, Marilla has handed her a card with the Lord’s Prayer on it, and sent her to her room to learn it. To which Anne responds, “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone, or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky – up – up – up – into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” This was exactly how I felt.
So no-one is more suprised than I am to find myself following a daily liturgy of prayer. What!!? Yes!! I know!! My good friend Joseph recommended a book called ‘Water to Wine’ by Brian Zahnd. I started reading his journey from a hyper-Charismatic faith, to one that is much more eclectic and includes elements from many other expressions of the Christian faith. Much of what Brian speaks of resonates with much of the journey that I’ve already been walking for quite a while now, but not in regards to prayer. He speaks of prayer as soul formation. He points out that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, and Jesus was like, “Here you go…” Jesus did not say, “Just feel a prayer.” He did not say, “Just let it out, tell God what’s on your heart.” That’s not to say of course that those things are wrong – they’re not. They’re awesome. And needed. But just probably not the fullness of prayer as it’s understood in a biblical context.
As I read this stuff I felt my defences rising. I was thinking, ‘I like what you’re saying Bri-guy, I even respect where you’re coming from, but liturgical prayer is not for me.’ But it nagged at me. Then I thought about it. Lots. I realised that I have been surreptitiously indoctrinated by the Pente theology that is always after the ‘new’ thing. When I was a Worship Pastor, I am embarrassed to admit that I told people we didn’t sing hymns because the bible says to ‘sing a new song to the Lord’. Good one Debs. As I pondered, I realised that there was so much flawed logic in this thinking. There are any number of amazing, invaluable, really old things. Like the bible. Or mountains. God Himself is extraordinarily old.
Another argument against liturgical prayer is that it’s a prayer that someone else has written, and that flies in the face of the thinking that prayer should flow from the heart. However, we sing worship songs every week that other people have written. I, for one, am very grateful that we do. Can you imagine the immense pressure every week if we lead worshippers had to get up and improvise new songs from the heart each week? Train wreck. Even though someone else writes the songs we sing, they are no less heartfelt when I sing them.
The first time I prayed through the liturgy, I was totally floored. I had never experienced the presence of God in prayer like that before. I was flooded with joy. And relief!! I don’t have to make up words anymore. There is a space in the liturgy to pray my own prayers, and to sit with Jesus; it’s just surrounded by Scripture and the prayers of people like St Francis of Assisi. And Jesus. No biggie. Brian Zahnd mentions that people often refer to liturgy as ‘dead’. Which he says is just bad English. Liturgy is either true or false, and the heart of the person praying is either dead or alive. So, he says, pray a true liturgy with an alive heart. So I am. And it’s amazing. I’m adding my voice to the countless other Christians gone before in petitioning God with rich and resoundingly true words.
You know what’s happened since I started praying this way? I look forward to it. Like I need it badly. And I’m not in a rush to leave. And my soul feels anchored in way that I’ve not experienced before. A restlessness within has been quieted. And for that, I’m immeasurably grateful.