Flinders Ranges under cloud Nov 2014. North of Merna Mora on the way to Brachina, looking east.

How I pray now

My background was strongly of the opinion that prayer is a verbal affair. You pray with words. It was also a background driven by guilt. We were expected to feel guilty for not praying and since prayer was a largely sterile affair we usually felt guilty about it.

Prayer was sterile because of the emphasis on asking for things. If we are really honest most of what we ask for in prayer does not happen. We can do all sorts of rationalisation about not asking "in His will" and that's why there was no answer, or we can fudge things by doing lots of praying for things which are going to happen anyway and call that answered prayer... but the fact is, that kind of prayer mostly doesn't work.

Prayer was also sterile because the Prayers of Praise and Thanksgiving that were modeled for us, and therefore taught to us, in Sunday church were full of lofty theological phrases outside of our experience. Who really gave a stuff about prayers like All praise to You, O Blessed Holy Trinity?... Not the farmers who were never led in prayers of thanks for the smell of warm diesel and freshly turned earth on a cold night as the tractor ticked and cooled. And not the farmers who reveled in sweat and dust as the clean grain poured into the bulk bin. We never thanked God for the joy of lumping 10.000 bags into a perfect pile.

And of course it was not prayer unless you said it. I once had to shift seven or eight pallets of bricks to the back of a house. No room for a truck, and low walls stopping a barrow. The builder gave me two days. I determined to do it in one, running back to the pallets empty, striding down with five bricks on one arm and three on the other. I wore out a pair of heavy welder's gloves, taping up the fingers as I went. And sang and rejoiced in the joy of being alive and being able to work. I did it in less than a day... and it never occurred to me then that it was praise of life and being, or a prayer.

I grew into manhood with an unreal and narrow view of prayer. It required me to relate to God in a way I would never relate to anyone else. So it was unbelievable.

No wonder that we ask if when we pray, are we doing anything other than talking to ourselves. Or if there is a Divine Reality which even hears us, let alone in some sense answers. The whole idea of prayer we have received is often foolish, and a busy prayer life on the model I described in my growing up either says a lot about incredible patience and faithfulness, but probably more about naiveté and perhaps, real-life immaturity.

If we also have come to a position where God does not fit the old models of the "personal father in heaven" or KINGAFAP etc then of course the kind of prayer above, already stretching credibility due to its lack of congruence with our experience, simply fails totally, and we cease to pray. (Hence once of my colleagues, a wonderful pastor, and deeply spiritual, says she no longer prays....) And indeed, if I define prayer in the old way, then I do not pray either.

But I do pray. I pray according to the God I know and the person I am. My prayer is about being with God. And sometimes I still talk to God... but in another way.

This praying seems to be of three kinds.

There is the prayer of despair or desperation. I quote here Rev Judith Meyer, [Link updated Nov 2022] who expresses this better than I am able.

I don't pray often.
But when I do,
it's because I'm desperate.
I want to tell you about this,
because sometimes these prayers,
desperate though they may have been,
have changed my life.
Not because they were answered
in any obvious way.
Not because the universe offered me any signs
to confirm that I was going in the right direction.
Not because of anything outside myself, actually -
but because of something inside,
something that allowed me to open up,
or to change,
or to move on
in ways I desperately needed to do.

Judith captures here something of how the depths of our pain or desperation seem to resonate. What that resonation is I am not sure. Judith says, "Whatever this glimmer of hope and transcendence might be, I was willing to call it God...."

KINGAFAP is a term coined by Brian Wren: King, Almighty Father, and Protector. Kingafap will also give some results in Google.
October 2002

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