We talked about prayer and how we pray in our small group last week. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. The reading content was okay but the discussion is where I really gained wisdom, where words spoken have refused to leave me. Who taught me to pray? A week later I am still wondering about that. I know it wasn’t the Catholic catechism classes I attended spottily, as my parents wavered in and out of church attendance. I learned rituals but not a deep spirituality, an ability to talk straight to God. I don’t think it was during my young adult years at the Episcopal church where I found comfort in those same traditions from childhood worship but less restriction concerning my social values. Maybe I taught myself when all the trappings of church were stripped away, when I was left alone to choose God without candles, incense, organs or even an anointed leader. Traditions that were meant to guide and ground me were gone. Stripped down, wearing only a jail uniform, I couldn’t hide my insides behind fancy Sunday clothes. No make up could mask my pain, I could no longer hide within the body of the church, any church. Without even a mirror to study my own reflection, even I could see that my inside turmoil finally matched my outsides. I talked to God when there was no one else to talk to. I think I taught myself to pray, or let God teach me, private lessons from the Master.
During our class discussion I heard a friend say something so outrageous that it really could cause a revolution. Her story is not mine to tell but let me say I have witnessed her walk, gained strength from our shared moments of success and grieved a piece of her harrowing, gut-wrenching defeat to the monster of addiction. She is real, she wears her battle of everything stripped away and newly chosen life in the very energy that surrounds her. She is someone that attracts people, her smile is warmth, her eyes shine as only eyes who have really seen God can. If you knew her story you would expect bitterness, anger, she has every right. She could easily be consumed with hatred, with grief that never ends. Her anger could be directed at our God, I am sure there are many days that has been true. Yet in our class she said she prays for her enemies. I know who she meant, she doesn’t have to do that. Let someone else pray for them, she has surely given enough at the altar. Her statement wasn’t self-aggrandizing, she wasn’t saying what our leader wanted to hear. None of the rest of us said such a crazy thing, those of us with less destructive enemies. She meant it, I believe her. That very act of prayer may be what has given her the glow of God.
I have another friend whose prayer looks like clay pots, broken and reassembled. It looks like pastels on card stock preserved and delivered to church between a piece of folded cereal box. It smells like an extra pan of lasagna, a bowl of soup, fresh bread for hurting friends. Her prayer looks like listening, always hearing the call of God , and then acting. Quietly, no fanfare, in the shadows, she daily follows the direction God leads. I am amazed at the direct line she seems to have, the absolute connection to the Holy Spirit that is undeniable. Faithful in attendance at church but more faithful to the actual voice of our God, her prayers are born of the wisdom of prophets long ago. No need for acronyms to remind her how to pray, she has moved passed speaking into hearing. I trust her prayers, she means them, they are well considered and exude grace, reminds me of the centeredness that comes only when we are no longer our center.
I appreciate worship together, I need that time even if I try to avoid it when I am most hurting. Yet I truly believe that getting real with God may mean going away like Jesus to the garden, when no one can see, not following prescribed steps, being so broken you can only fall down and reach up. I gain such insight into the character of my God from fellow travelers, those who have crawled and now stumble, rarely run, tread carefully. The journey of their faith teaches me more than doctrine, more than guide books for praying. These women ARE my guides. They are have taught me to find my way to pray, a way that reaches the ear of my God. A God who doesn’t want a cookie cutter phrase repeated from memory, one that I can say without feeling anymore. God wants me to join in the conversation, however that appears, to have an authentic chat and then listen for the next step. I know He wants me to stay away from art supplies. He may want me to bake some lasagna. I am afraid He may be calling me to pray for my enemies. They are broken as well.
I go to church and worship with those who are on this journey, those who are seeking the path to our God. I cherish the music which speaks to my soul, breaks down the walls I try to erect. I learn from the sermons, I feel called to act, to change, to do. My real teachers though are the women in my life who write songs, hang out in the kitchen, nurture the children. These women know pain and know God. They know how to pray. A week later and I finally have an answer to “Who taught me to pray?” My sisters did and do every day.