July 28, 2019
The Rev. Peggy Schnack
St Paul’s, Brunswick
7th Sunday After Pentecost
St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “[For] Love to be true it has to begin with God in prayer. If we pray, we will be able to love, and if we love, we will be able to serve” (Everything Starts from Prayer, 5). No wonder the disciples want to know how to pray. It is not just words that are said, it is a line of communication to the one who shows us how to love, in turn allowing us to love, which is what we are called to do throughout all places and times. Theologian and spiritual director Kenneth Leech writes,
In prayer we open ourselves out to God, and this process is one of liberation and awakening… So what is prayer? It is a ‘sharing in the divine nature’, a ‘taking of manhood into God’. So we can say, in the words of the eastern teacher St. Gregory of Sinai, ‘Prayer is God’. When we think about prayer, we are thinking about God and about human consciousness of God (Leech, Kenneth. True Prayer. 1, 7).
“When you pray say…” Was Jesus saying that these words were the only way to communicate with the Father? I do not think so. I think that what Jesus said was to give his followers a model. Jesus prayed often, both alone and among his disciples. He prayed words from the Torah and he prayed words from his heart. The disciples would have seen him in what must have appeared to be an intensely intimate relationship with one whom they could not see. They would have heard him talking to God, and also being silent, listening. So when the disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he was asking Jesus for more than just words. He was asking Jesus to help them to cultivate an intimate relationship with the Father too. He was asking to be taught, ultimately, to love. And according to Mother Teresa, this love will call us to serve. That service is an important outcome of prayer. Prayer increases our ability to love, and love increases our ability to serve. And serve we must.
Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful prayer that we say weekly, and some of us even daily. Among people who have Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, it is often one of few things from the liturgy that they can readily recall. It is a very powerful set of words, but what are the words teaching us? What truths can be pulled out of the Lord’s Prayer? “God hears. God provides.
God forgives. God protects. God expects us to be generous to one
another” (Who Taught You to Pray, Working Preacher, July 21, 2019). So if someone who can remember little about the world they live in can remember this prayer, somewhere deep inside them they are also remembering these truths. “God hears. God provides. God forgives. God protects. God expects us to be generous to one another.” I think that is part of the comfort that saying the Lord’s Prayer can bring to people. The words are familiar and they show us the nature of who God is, even when we cannot recognize anything else.
Prayer is simple, yet can seem so daunting. What should I say? How do I do it? Do I have to follow a book? Are we allowed to pray in our own words? What should I expect to happen? What if I do it wrong?
When I was doing my required hospital Clinical Pastoral Education during the summer after my first year of seminary, I had to set goals. One of my goals was to become better at spontaneous prayer. I was raised Catholic, and while my Mom was and still is a beautiful spontaneous prayer, I never got comfortable with it. So into hospital rooms I marched, or more like hesitantly stumbled, one after another, day after day, for the whole summer.
Sometimes I had my prayer book, but often I would try to pray in my own words. At first, it came haltingly, and I was keenly aware of every stumble, pause, and hesitation. But with time, I became more comfortable with praying with the patient, in whatever words came to me. Toward the end of the summer, I realized I was no longer thinking about how to pray with patients, I was just doing it.
On the flip side, when I became Episcopalian I opened this odd little red book called the Book of Common Prayer. I had never seen anything like it.
At one point, I went through it, page by page, discovering all the things that the BCP has to offer. One of the sections that is very useful for prayer but is often overlooked is the Daily Devotions for Families and Individuals, found beginning on page 136. Sometimes, the words just don’t want to come or my mind is running in so many directions, that focusing it on prayer is rather difficult. This is a time when, for me, written prayers in a book are extremely helpful. These short devotions bring my mind back into focus, allowing me to take a deep breath, and focus on my relationship with the living God.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus did not give a list of do-s and don’t-s. But if you need a couple of pointers here you go. Do have an open mind. Don’t be afraid to voice how you are really feeling. God already knows and nothing you can say will offend God or make God love you any more or any less. Just look at the Psalms, they are full of prayers of gratitude, but also lament, fear, and anger. Do embrace the silences, don’t let them stress you out or make you anxious, don’t fear silence in prayer. Do address God, however you choose to address God is great. This prayer is not to other people, you are not asking the neighbor for a cup of sugar. This prayer is to God, who loves you, your child, your enemy, and the stranger. This prayer is to God, who hears us and knows us, and loves us anyway.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” When we pray the Lord’s Prayer in a little bit, I invite you to be present with the words. Relish them as you read or recite them and allow yourself to wonder how God is calling you to love more fully in both your relationship with God and your relationships with those around you. Then consider how that love can lead us into action through service.
As we say at the dismissal, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Prayer is the key to a deeper, more loving relationship with those around you and with God, it is a blessing. But you have to use it to reap the