What is it about prayer that intimidates many of us? Are we afraid to express our feelings? Does it make us uncomfortable? Is it speaking out loud? Do we get stage fright? Does prayer expose us? Are we afraid of being honest and, therefore, vulnerable?
Friends, let me start by saying that there is no proper prayer protocol. There is no right or wrong way to pray, there are no right or wrong words; heck, sometimes there is no need for words. There is no right or wrong place to pray and there is no right or wrong time.
Prayer alone, prayer with others, prayer before bed, prayer during exercise, prayer in the shower, silent prayer, prayer for 10 seconds or prayer for an hour – it’s not about where, with whom, how or for how long. It’s not always about words, it is about connection.
Prayer does not have to be a “Dear God” statement; it can be an emotion, a touch, an action. Prayer happens when we receive communion. Prayer happens over a cup of coffee, or five. Prayer happens when we fill a backpack with food on a Thursday evening so that a child in this community does not have to go hungry over the weekend. Prayer happens whenever we encounter and feel God’s amazing presence and grace. Prayer is love. And it is important, it’s healthy, it matters – we need it to grow.
Prayer, for me, has become an immense part of my journey. Like I said before though, I was afraid of prayer, it intimidated me, and I avoided it like the plague. I didn’t know how to have a conversation with God, I didn’t know how to vocally express my feelings and it straight up made me uncomfortable. Prayer made God real for me in a new, and uneasy, way.
I grew up in the Catholic Church and I was always given the impression that yes, we worship God, we praise him, but essentially He’s up there and we’re down here; God is “unreachable,” “unattainable.” What I mean by that is that I got the impression that there had to be a certain degree of distance between God and I. I got that “look but don’t touch” vibe. How do I grow with my faith if I have to keep my distance? How do I live and love like Jesus if I can’t connect and relate to my Maker?
Here’s the thing, I could recite prayers with the best of them in the pews; the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostle’s Creed. I like to think of it as my prayer reflex – I memorized them word for word and when it was time to recite them during Mass, bam, I nailed it. That was the only kind of prayer that I had ever known. Sure I knew the words but I had no idea the content of what I was reciting; I didn’t understand the message. It was rote and, in many respects, it felt superficial. I didn’t experience a connection between God and myself through that kind of prayer.
If there is one thing that I’ve learned though, it’s that this journey is a relationship. And to have a successful and healthy relationship there must be communication; there must be openness and honesty with and through our Creator.
I pray in the morning and simply thank God for allowing me to wake up, to take a breath. I pray throughout the day and thank God for the people I interact and connect with and for the experiences that I encounter. I pray for myself, I pray for my family, for my friends, for strangers, for the RISE community. I pray for unity, forgiveness and love. There is no poetry to my words (my “Dear Lawd,” Long Island accent is pretty angelic sounding though). My thoughts aren’t always complete and I often go off on tangents. There is neither structure nor limit to my prayers; there is only passion, love and an open heart and mind.
Sometimes I find that prayer means not speaking at all. I, often times, find myself sitting in God’s presence and saying ‘Speak Lord, I am listening.’ For me, it is about the emotion, the reflection and the connection. I cherish that alone time with God, I embrace it and I need it.
I need prayer, of any kind, to learn about myself and God. I need it to grow with my faith, to prosper, to serve others. I need it to be the person that I’m called to be.
Prayer With and Within Community
When I was first asked to come to a RISE morning prayer, I immediately thought ‘Oh no, we’re going to be in a circle holding hands and they’re going to make me pray out loud. I’m going to be put on the spot and I won’t know what to say; my words won’t be good enough, it won’t sound pretty, I can’t quote Scripture, I don’t know how to pray.’ In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I showed up one Thursday morning at 7 am, simply out of curiosity and of a desire to connect more with RISE. I wasn’t expected to talk and I wasn’t expected to recite the Bible. I was there to experience, to share in community and in God’s love, and that was enough.
I realize that many people want to know what goes on at prayer on Thursday mornings. Basically, Melissa gives us a list, compiled from all the prayers received at worship; just like the RISE report, it is broken down into prayers for the world, prayers for the community, prayers for RISE and personal prayers. The list is divided up among us, so that we are given prayers from each section, and then we each go our own way. We find our own space, sit with those prayers, reflect on each person, each situation, and lift them up to God.
Side note: the RISE prayer team is open to absolutely everyone! We understand that everyone is at a different point in his or her journey and we understand that participating in intentional prayer can be intimidating. Please know that there is no pressure to join us but, of course, we would love to have you! If you are at all interested or if you have questions, concerns or fears (I guarantee there are others who feel the same way) I encourage you to talk to Amanda, Melissa Fretwell or myself. Be where you are, be okay with where you are and know how much you are loved.
So, prayer on Thursday mornings has become a routine for me. It’s become an important way for me to connect with the community and God. Every week I am entrusted with your prayers; your questions; your concerns; your struggles; your anxieties; your pain; the pain of someone you know or love; your joys; your successes.
Every week I am transformed through each person that has, so graciously and courageously, written something down. As I lift up your prayers for the world and the community, as well as your personal prayers, I get the privilege of connecting with you in an incredible way. You allow me to share in your story. I may not be able to put a face to a prayer (all prayers are kept anonymous and confidential) but I know that you are one of God’s beloved, you were made in His image, and it is a blessing and an honor to be able to pray for and with you.
Each week, as I read through the prayer list, I am reminded just how important our stories are. How much we hold inside. How much we want to reach out and how desperately we need each other. Community is a gift. Prayer is a gift. Use them both for all of the love, grace and support that they have to offer.
“Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!” (Psalm 66:5)
I believe that the experience of prayer cannot be put into words, it cannot be defined. The only advice that I can give is this: come and see, come and feel, come and experience and understand the ways in which the Holy Spirit transforms us.
So, what if prayer isn’t something to fear but something to embrace? What if it is a beautiful, raw, indescribable and transformational way of connecting with our Creator, with ourselves and with each other? Come and see.
If you’re interested in joining the RISE Prayer Team, email Jenn Landrein:firstname.lastname@example.org.