“Sit with God as you might with the ocean. You bring nothing to the ocean, yet it changes you.” ~ Sean Caulfield, The Experience of Praying
Several of my recent sermons here in the transition from summer to fall have revolved around the theme of prayer – sometimes concrete practices, sometimes more general reflections. I sometimes wonder if it’s wise to preach about prayer, because inevitably the topic will bring up many questions and conversations, and it can feel more nurturing to address these in small groups or other settings tailored specifically for new learning and growth. I’m reminded of this when someone remarks after a sermon, “Oh, I’ve been praying all wrong!” or “I’ve never had an experience like that!”
One way to think of Church is as a school for conversation with God which we never really graduate. I could say there is no wrong way to pray and a counter example might spring to mind, such as those “vending machine” prayers where we tell God exactly what we need to appear in our life. But even those prayers aren’t so bad. Our deep places of need, particularly our needs which seem too big to ever fill on our own, are often starting points for recognizing the power greater than our own with which we seek communion. As we change over time, our ways of playing with that communion change; sometimes we find new words, sometimes words fall away, sometimes old prayers mean new things.
I think we often encounter ways of praying at church that are different from what we’re used to. We see this in our Catechumenate program as people learn to pray out loud for each other, sometimes for the first time. While I have spent a lot of time talking with people about their prayer lives over the years, when it comes to conversation with God, I see many people in our community as elders from whom I’m still learning. If you ever hear of a practice or experience that is new to you, take it in a spirit of exploration. Ultimately, all our ways of speaking with and listening to the Ineffable are inadequate by our standards of communication, and all, when practiced with a humble heart, are places where God will meet us, still.