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The human story is God’s story. When we pray, we connect with not just one human story, but with God’s story.
10 things progressive christians DO
The sun was pouring through my minivan, its warmth distracting me from my favorite NPR broadcast, StoryCorps. I was only half listening to the voices of the parents of an Iraq war veteran. In my line of work, I already know too much about PTSD. Did I want to hear more?
Then something happened. My heart tuned to the father’s voice. The father spoke: On June 21st that evening about 11:30 he came into the front room, and he asked me if he could sit in my lap and if we could rock. Which we did.
Tears streamed down my face. I thought of my own boys. I thought of the men they will become. I thought of their already long bodies folding into my lap. I thought of the deep voice of a tormented veteran, asking his father if he could sit in his lap. I thought of how this strong body curled into his father’s lap, knees drawn, seeking protection from haunted memories, trying to remember innocence, as they rocked back and forth.
The next day, on June 22nd, the father found his son Jeff Lucey hanging in their basement. After the must-be-done-work of untying his son’s body, Kevin Lucey held his son in his lap for the last time.
Prayer is not my natural spiritual inclination. Yet in that brief moment of space, that separated the father’s final reflection from the broadcaster’s voice, I prayed with every fiber of my being:
Please dear God care for this mother and father. Surround them with your love. Do something to help them bear such grief, such loss. Hold them in your lap and rock them until they can laugh again.
I don’t understand prayer. Half the time, I think my prayers are token gestures, ineffective distracted ramblings. Somehow, at some point, I became convince that to be faithful you must pray. So I pray with my kids, we say grace before dinner, I lead communities in prayer, and always, I assure people who seek my spiritual counsel that I am praying for them. But often I feel like a spiritual faker. Are my prayers effective or emotionally empty?
When someone asks me to pray for their cousin’s husband who lives in California who was recently diagnosed with cancer my “prayer conviction” kicks in, my “faith manners” take over. I take the request seriously and include it in community prayer. Yet I still feel like a faker; my heart is not stirred, my spirit is not open, I just string a few words together about a nameless man with cancer.
Either at this point you believe me to be an ordained imposter, or you are relieved to know someone else feels like a faker. If you think I am an imposter, that’s okay with me. Don’t read on. If you are relieved—welcome to the club. It’s pretty normal to question the efficacy of prayer. It’s even more normal not to pray, but still desire others to pray for you.
So why in the world is a spiritual faker, such as myself, writing about prayer? Why did prayer make it onto the “Ten Things” list that progressive christians do?
I have set out to blog about prayer, but I cannot talk about prayer without talking about story.
I do not know the Lucey family whose son hung himself. In the same way, I do not know the cousin’s husband in California diagnosed with cancer. Rationally, my conviction about prayer tells me prayer is needed and comforting in both situations. Then why did I feel like a faker when I prayed for the cousin’s husband, but not the Lucey parents?
I think it is about story. I knew Kevin’s story as the father of a PTSD veteran. I knew he rocked his adult son the night before he killed himself. In the same way, I know the courageous struggle of a friend undergoing IVF treatments. I hold my breath with her, praying that IVF will be successful this time. On the other hand, I was not given any glimpse into the cousin’s story.
When we pray, we offer an individual human story, or even a collective human story, to God. When we pray, we ignore the walls that separate us as individuals and instead recognize how tightly our stories are knit together into one story. The human story is God’s story. When we pray, we connect with not just one human story, but with God’s story.
Progressive christians pray because we believe that the human story, each and every individual story, is one story. And that one story, and all the individual stories that comprise it, is God’s story. We believe that each and every story matters, especially to God. Prayer is simply our way of placing these stories inside God’s larger story.
Stop worrying if you are a faker like me. Instead, listen to the human story, all of them, and offer those stories to God. Offer your story to God. Watch our stories weave together. Before you know it, you will be praying.
To learn more about StoryCorp or hear Kevin and Joyce Lucey’s story: StoryCorps.org
I was recently scared into flossing by my dental hygienist.
I have been told that you should floss daily ever since my first appointment at the dentist office when I was four. I even remember the white robed woman at our elementary school, whose weekly appearance in our classroom meant it was time to swish with disgusting fluoride rinse. She too expounded on the benefits of flossing.
But who, may I ask, really enjoys flossing? I would rather read, or for that matter do the dishes, than floss. I hate wrapping the string around my fingers and trying to fit it between my back teeth that I can’t even see.
Yet just a few months ago I began to floss almost every night. Why? Because apparently, like my father, I have gum disease and am in danger of losing my teeth eventually. What a drag. Thankfully my rational side decided it’s better to floss for a minute (I will not do it for any longer) than end up with large gaps in my mouth where teeth once were.
For me, prayer is like flossing. I think most of us are scared into prayer. And I think even if we don’t want to admit it, most of us have heard again and again how good prayer is for our well being, but few of us really enjoy it. Prayer too often feels dutiful, just like wrapping floss around your fingers. Most of us don’t pray before we need to, just like we don’t floss before our dental hygienist confirms that yes, our teeth will fall out.
Few of us pray before our depression crushes us, before our relationship falls apart, before we hit rock bottom and are forced to seek help for our addiction. No, most of us find ourselves praying right when our teeth are falling out, when we are scared into it as we await test results, when we discover our bank account is empty, before the ambulance arrives, when it becomes clear our spirit has left, or after our last friend, child, sibling, (fill in the blank) has stopped calling.
Most of us turn to prayer as our last resource.
Yes, I am an ordained minister, but I am no saint, and at times prayer still feels like flossing. I would just rather curl up in bed with a good book than talk to God about how depleted I am or about how terrified I am that I will leave my children motherless because of some terrible disease. Books are so much more enjoyable than bearing my soul to God.
I don’t want my teeth to fall out. And I don’t want my emotional-spiritual tank to register empty. So I floss and I pray. I’m not ashamed to confess that more often than not I am scared into prayer by this terrifyingly fragile world. But I’m grateful to confess that God doesn’t seem to care that flossing and prayer are not my natural inclination.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.