Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Valley of Vision

Most people who believe in God agree that prayer is a good thing. Honest, sincere prayer is something we know we should do every day. Continually. Constantly.

I grew up in a church that taught us to read, recite, and memorize prayers written by others. I'm sure we were encouraged to pray spontaneously and in our own words too, but my memory is all about reciting others' prayers. Like most kids my age, I became very efficient at reciting them very quickly, which is to say mindlessly.

As my theology changed and I moved away from the church of my childhood, I discovered that people prayed in their own words, not someone else's.  So I turned away, mostly, from reading "published" prayers.  Somehow I got the impression they were inferior. I enjoyed listening to other people pray, and marveled at how eloquent they were. But I became tongue-tied when I was called upon to pray out loud and even silent prayer was hard for me. I wasn't eloquent, but awkward.  I didn't know how to pray.  I learned various formulae for prayer; the only one I can remember is ACTS: adoration, contrition, thanks, supplication. That helped a little, but all too often I find my prayers become a list of "please...," with a "thank you..." thrown in at the end. 

It is a struggle sometimes to really pray.  Not to mindlessly and quickly go through my list of requests, but really spill out my heart to God.  The good and the bad.  The thanks and the confession and the requests.  (Why are there always so many more requests than anything else?)

I don't know when I discovered The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers. Probably the seminarian brought it home.  These are beautiful, eloquent prayers.  But not showy.  Maybe no one else knows what I mean by showy prayers.  Those are prayers that seem as if the person is praying for their audience and not for their God.  But not these.   Here is the prayer titled "Morning Needs:"

O God the author of all good, I come to Thee for the grace another day will require for its duties and events. I step out into a wicked world; I carry about with me an evil heart. I know that without Thee I can do nothing, that everything with which I shall be concerned, however harmless in itself, may prove an occasion of sin or folly, unless I am kept by Thy power. Hold Thou me up and I shall be safe.

Preserve my understanding from subtilty of error, my affections from love of idols, my character from stain of vice, my profession from every form of evil. May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore Thy blessing, and in which I cannot invite Thy inspection. Prosper me in all lawful undertakings, or prepare me for disappointments. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, Who is the Lord? or be poor, and steal, and take Thy name in vain.

May every creature be made good to me by prayer and Thy will. Teach me how to use the world and not abuse it, to improve my talents, to redeem my time, to walk in wisdom toward those without, and in kindness to those within, to do good to all men, and especially to my fellow Christians. And to Thee be the glory.

 I find myself turning to these prayers often.  As I read them I know I am praying along with the writer, not just reading someone else's words.  I can feel the emotion of the prayers.  And they lead me to articulate my own praises and thanks and needs in a way that doesn't feel like a "to-do" list for God.   God doesn't need our to-do lists, but He does want to hear from us.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

For myself I've found that different types of prayer have been meaningful to me at different times. Having grown up with only spontaneous prayer, which, incidentally, often sounded the same every time, I now find the pre-written prayers to be both comforting and Biblical, at least the ones I'm using. The book Praying With The Church by Scott McKnight helped me see the place of both types of prayer in the life of the Church.