When We Wonder How to Pray
I make my living with words. Still, I often run out of them at just the wrong moment. More accurately, I find myself unable to find the right words to capture the reality I want and need to express.
It happens most often in prayer. Mostly its because I have no idea what to say. What do I ask for a friend whose suffering seems interminable? Or for the yard sale I am holding while my friend is being wheeled into an operating room? I pray but feel heart sick at stringing together tired Christian clichés—bless her; bless him; bless them; bless everyone—how can something that is so true seem so lame? Sometimes I think that “bless”—such a glorious idea—has been reduced to the request of the mindlessly spontaneous.
Spontaneous prayer, it turns out, is both essential and insufficient. The proof of that, of course, is the existence of the Psalms, a sacred collection of prayers for the people of God. So often I am unable to find the right words until I find the right psalm. Thankfully, too, collections of prayers composed over the centuries since Christ’s ascension come to my aid. The Book of Common Prayer and The Valley of Vision are two I dearly love, and use often.
And now there is one more: Every Moment Holy. Written by Douglas McKelvey and illustrated with linocut prints by Ned Bustard, the book is beautifully crafted, a creative resource for prayer deeply rooted in Christian grace, beautiful art and the truth of scripture.
I suspect the first thought many believers will have when they first look through Every Moment Holy will be, “I never thought of praying about that.” McKelvey provides prayers, simple liturgies…
For the Enjoyment of Bonfires;
Before Consuming Media;
For the Loss of Electricity
For Those Who Feel Awkward in Social Gatherings;
For Those Fearing Failure;
For the Paying of Bills
(If this seems surprising it shouldn’t. The Lord taught us in Matthew 6 that all of life is to be enveloped by prayer. Nothing and no one is outside its gracious bounds.)
For the Sound of Sirens;
For Those Facing the Slow Loss of Memory;
For Those Who Have Not Done Great Things for God;
For a Sick Day;
For the Welcoming of a New Pet;
Lament Upon the Finishing of a Beloved Book;
And that is only a small fraction of what is included.
The thing I love about Every Moment Holy (and the two other resources I’ve mentioned) is how they enrich my prayer life. They enrich it, obviously, by providing prayers on occasions I have run out of words. But they also enrich it by broadening my language in prayer. When I read the liturgy “For Those Flooded by Too Much Information,” McKelvey’s thoughtful words help enlarge my vocabulary so that my spontaneous prayers can be more meaningful.
Every Moment Holy is graced throughout with Ned Bustard’s prints, turning a useful book into a work of art. Now that I have written this much about Every Moment Holy, I want to pray. And so, in the words included in “A Liturgy for Those with a Sudden Burden to Intercede”:
Breathe through me, O Spirit,
your thoughts, your words.
Kindle in me, O Father,
your sorrows and consolations.
Teach me, O Christ, how to serve
and to love by intercession.
And so amen.