As an ordinand (trainee vicar) for the Anglican Church, I’m into prayer in a big way.
Basically prayer is the essential diet of the religious life. But I didn’t always feel this way about prayer…
When I was a kid, dragged reluctantly along to Sunday School and longing for the coming-of-age when I would be able to stay at home instead of follow my mum to church I actually said ‘I don’t see why we should do all this boring praying anyway’ -know how I remember that? Coz as I spoke I shuffled my wooden chair petulantly, and it somehow trapped the skin of my thumb in a sharp pinch that made me yelp… that was when I was eight -and though it didn’t break the skin, I still have the scar on my thumb!
Of course that didn’t convince me of the value of prayer -it just pricked my childish conscience and made me slightly cross with a God I only just dimly believed in.
Then during my teenage years I went to a lively Baptist Church and, whilst occasionally hearing some absolutely ghastly extempore ‘prayers’, laden with personal opinion and agenda: ‘Dear father we all just wanna pray father for John Doe father that he would be freed father from his spirit of critical questioning father and help him father, just help him to accept father the teachings of your Word (as explained by the elders of this church and particularly my husband) father thank you amen…’ I also witnessed the odd miraculous answer to prayer -people’s serious illnesses suddenly turned around to the amazement of doctors; startling provision for all sorts of situations -but it was a bit of a hotch-potch… sometimes prayers didn’t seem to have answers: -not just ‘no‘ or ‘not now‘ but really -no answers, as though the prayer was a letter to God that somehow got lost in the post…
-So now I knew God could and did answer prayers -sometimes in a really exciting way and far too often to be coincedence… but it still seemed a bit hit-and-miss… and frankly so did my praying.
I talked to God a lot in private -usually pleading or berating; occasionally remembering to say thanks -and I said the ‘Our Father’ prayer that Jesus taught, when I didn’t know what to say. But I had no idea that the Bible contained an entire book of prayers (Psalms) -and most often between the ages of 15 and 20 I just used to say ‘Dear God, please look after everyone I love, and please guide my life, amen.‘
During and after university, I still prayed about things that loomed large in my life -loneliness -future plans- family health etc. But shunned the rather creepy Christian Union crowd, as odd and obsessive and unsexy… I was absolutely certain I was not going to find a future mate from amongst their pallid and apparently unadventurous ranks.
Well after I met my future husband at a theatrical after-party and he walked me home, explaining (to my cynical suspicion) that he was a Christian, and as such, was not up for a quick fling… I prayed again… I basically asked God if this bloke was the answer to all my years of lonely-hearts request prayers… 1o years and a baby later…I’m certain he was/is!
Back to the early years of marriage -and though still a churchgoer, and still praying… in a kind of cod-liver-oil supplement way (reluctantly, knowing it was somehow doing some good), I began to explore my Christian vocation.
This brought me to Mirfield for Holy Week, where I finally… well, not ‘met’, but ‘encountered‘ I suppose you’d say… where I finally encountered, through much silent and corporate prayer, my Divine Penpal. I’d sent scribbled missives for years, received some care-parcels in return and felt in consequence like I had a sort of Heavenly Absentee Dad… now I spent a week ‘on retreat’: -basically on holiday with God…
I can’t tell you about that. I would love you to understand -some people reading this will already understand -simply by view of shared experience -others, regardless of specific religious adherence -will not yet understand -but I believe one day we will all understand -until then -take it from me -pray.
Pray -and tell those you love that you love them -and mean it.