Friday, September 2, 2011

Living on a Prayer

I have mentioned that my current employer is a Catholic institution, so it should come as no surprise that there is formal employer-organized prayer here too. And the difference in experience is interesting.

In my old Fundamentalist life, I was party to plenty of prayer meetings. Usually, one or more people were charged with praying during that time. It was ostensibly unscripted, but most casual public prayers followed an inevitable format (despite feeling somehow superior to people who prayed “canned” prayers...). I opened with “Dear Heavenly Father”, I asked God to “just be with” a laundry list of certain people/situations, and I closed with “In Jesus’ Name”.

The prayers of the liturgical tradition are a different matter altogether. They aren’t mere laundry lists. They actually say something, and that something is usually quite deep. They are drenched in grace. They make my heart sing in worship to God and thankfulness for who He is - even if they're read in a monotone and maybe a little too fast.

Here are some examples:

“Let us remember in a special way all the countries of the world. Let us remember those countries who are struggling with the issues of oppression, natural catastrophes, large national debts, and corrupt governments. May God be with them and give them strength during these difficult times. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”
– Catholic prayer service

“We pray for all nations and people, and particularly for those suffering from war, disaster, poverty and disease. We ask you to be with our own country including our leaders and with those who serve. We remember all who serve the common good. Be with the nations, Lord, that divisions might cease and wars end.”
– Episcopal church service

“Let us pray for peace, peace in our families, in our workforce and in our world. May God guide our government so right decisions will be made. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”

“Let us pray for those who are unemployed and those who are homeless. May God help all individuals so his or her dignity can be preserved, work can be found and hope can be felt in hearts again. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”
– Catholic prayer service

“We lift up all those in need; those who are in financial difficulties, those who seek jobs, those who are hungry and those who need homes. We lift up those who face illness, those who live with pain, and those who live with sadness. We lift up care givers, and health workers and all who help those in difficulty. Be merciful to those in need, Lord, that help and healing may come.”
– Episcopal church service

There is more here than the content and poetry of the words. The attitudes behind prayers like this were shamefully foreign to me when I first left Fundamentalism but, fortunately, are becoming more second nature.

In Fundamentalism I *never* prayed for God to correct oppression in this world. I may have prayed for the leader of America, but never for any other country’s leader – and only that he would essentially be nice to Christians of my ilk. I certainly never prayed for homeless or poor people in general - they deserved what they got because of bad choices. I never asked God to bring unity and have mercy by stopping wars. The prayers are not only more beautiful and meaningful than anything I prayed before, they are more compassionate and loving.

Frequently I can’t help but break down in tears during the service, because these prayers are sweet water to a parched soul.

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