What is prayer to you?
I’ve not written much lately as I’ve had all on looking after my 97 year old mum. She has just had a pacemaker fitted and is all bionic now, and tells me she’s not ready to go yet. Some girl.
As a novice in the Third Order, I am working my way through the ten novice notes, designed to help me consider the Franciscan way of life and if I have a vocation. I’d felt pretty bad about ignoring them for weeks on end until an older and wiser Tertiary told me that caring for my mum was the most Franciscan thing I could do.
So I have just paid attention to Novice Note 5. Novice Note 5 is about prayer which is a thorny topic for me. I grew up in a Christian home but always felt alienated from prayer. It was something other people did. They seemed to have a hotline to God and I didn’t. So I gave up on the inside whilst closing my eyes and putting my hands together on the outside.
It was years and years before I realised that prayer could be lots of things. It could be walking, it could be singing, it could be repeating my mantra in my head until it lodged like an earworm in my brain. It could be dancing, it could be crying, it could be kneeling at the altar in the Cathedral and not trying.
But Novice Note 5 asks me to consider how I pray. It very helpfully gives me categories so I don’t have to think of them myself.
How do I pray?
I like listening to the prayers in the Cathedral – especially when one of my fellow Tertiaries says them which I hope isn’t too partisan. She mentions the King and such, but she spends a lot of time on issues of justice and peace and the state of the world. I enjoy letting the words be there and not having to think of them myself. My priest-friend told me the other day that intercessory prayer is really hard when you're exhausted. She often touches me where I need to be heard.
I enjoy singing the psalm in the church. That’s a form of praying together. And I love singing hymns. Most of all I am in heaven when my choir sings and I ascend to glory on the waves of Stainer and Stanford and Elgar and Mozart. Apart from Lent when it’s all minor keys and plainsong. That’s the Church's year for you.
But corporate prayer, for me, used to mean everyone raising their hands and speaking in tongues which made me curl up inside and want to scream. It still is for some people. But not for me. And that’s okay.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Wow. Sounds a bit heavy. I’ve never confessed to a priest – what with my fundamentalist upbringing and all. They’d think I’d gone to the dogs. The Hounds of Hell. I say the Confession at the Eucharist and I say it when I say Compline at night. Sometimes I really really try to feel it and squeeze some sorrow out. Most of the time I don’t feel much, but God knows I’m sorry anyway because I know when I’ve acted in ways which aren’t loving. Which is what confession is about for me.
Until a few years ago, I would have said that I didn’t pray. But now I say that I do. In all those ways I mentioned. I especially like walking and praying. I’m not so good at sitting still. So I talk to God as I walk. I use it as a time of intercession when I name all the people I’m concerned about. It feels a bit like a shopping list but that’s okay. Me and God go through the list together.
And I use it as a time of contemplation-on-the move. I say my mantra as my feet pound the pavements. My mantra is a bit private so I won’t mention it here. But I like doing that. And I find myself saying my mantra at other times too – falling asleep, brushing my hair, spreading jam on my toast, in the dentist’s chair. It helps me feel closer to God. I still worry sometimes though that the Third Order is a contemplative order and I don't contemplate enough.
And sometimes, I sit with one of my favourite books to pray. 'Psalms for praying' by Nan C Merrill. The words are there when I don't have any. Here's the link if you're interested
So that’s prayer for me.
As if you could ever define it.
What does prayer mean to you?
Image by A_Wandering_Pear
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