Most of us find prayer challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. As Meister Eckhart, a 14th-century German mystic, observed, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from adding prayers, and changing our prayers as we evolve both individually and collectively.
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep” is my first remembered prayer, learned from my mother. I am grateful for being taught to pray at a young age. From those early lessons, I learned to make intentional time with Holy Mystery. They also instilled in me a practice of naming in prayer my loved ones and others I’m concerned about, strengthening visible and invisible relationships. But it’s been a long time since I’ve felt the need to petition God to care for me as I did then. Now I pray with a more secure sense of God’s ever-present love.
I’m also grateful that the Lord’s Prayer has been a lifelong companion. It offers a deep sense of connection with Jesus’ Jewish prayer practice. I feel that I am praying with Jesus and all those who call him friend.
And yet contemporary paraphrases of Jesus’ prayer, such as Jim Cotter’s (found on page 916 in Voices United), have kept fresh my love affair with God, and God’s dream for the world. Recently, at the bedside of a dying loved one, I recited Cotter’s paraphrase, which begins, “Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver . . . Mother and Father of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven.” Moved by these images, a young relative asked me to write the prayer down for her.
When our children were young, our mealtime grace was the United Church’s A New Creed (“We are not alone, we live in God’s world”). Older forms of grace didn’t seem quite right, and these words are now planted firmly in our hearts.
Prayer is impossible to define, yet I’ve come to think of it as a meeting of human and Divine in loving intention. And while the traditional prayers of our faith remain precious, prayer comes alive when we bring our own experiences to it. Composing my own prayers takes me deeper into the heart of prayer.
A while back, I wrote these words with which I begin my days: “May every thought that tugs for my attention be brought into Your Light. May I allow You to guide my speaking — and my listening. May everything I do be connected to my being in You, so all that I am radiates Your Love.”
This prayer springs from my desire to be guided through the day toward deeper relationship and higher intention, to find more faithful ways of interacting with people and events than what my first inclination may be. (In an earlier version of this prayer, I asked only to be guided in my speaking; then I realized that I needed to listen better, too!) These words accompany me through the day, making it more likely that I will approach its hours with greater love.
I don’t yet know when or how I might introduce my infant granddaughter to prayer, though I suspect it will involve singing. Perhaps you have suggestions.
I imagine you, too, are grateful for inherited prayers. And yet perhaps you also find it life-giving to shape your own. What words of prayer are authentic for you?
Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.
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