Let Us Pray
Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris
March 8, 2015
Reading from the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 6: 5-15 (King James Version)
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. 9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Reading from Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne LaMotte
. . . I have come to believe . . . that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple. Help. Thanks. Wow. . . . Prayer is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding . . . a cry from deep within to Life or Love with capital L’s… Sometimes the first time we pray, we cry out in the deepest desperation, “god help me.” This is a great prayer, as we are then at our absolutely most degraded and isolated, which means we are nice and juicy with the consequences of our best thinking and are thus possibly teachable. . .
Prayer is taking a chance against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up…
Prayer is us – humans merely being as e.e. cummings put it – reaching out to something having to do with the eternal, with vitality, intelligence, kindness even when we are at our most doomed and utterly skeptical. . . . prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth. . .
Help. Thanks. Wow. . . . Amen
Prayer Jesus Taught (from The Sermon On The Mount) Interpreted By Parker Palmer, Quaker teacher, author & activist
Heavenly Father, heavenly Mother,
Holy and blessed is your true name.
We pray for your reign of peace to come,
We pray that your good will be done,
Let heaven and earth become one.
Give us this day the bread we need,
Give it to those who have none.
Let forgiveness flow like a river between us,
From each one to each one.
Lead us to holy innocence
Beyond the evil of our days —
Come swiftly Mother, Father, come.
For yours is the power and the glory and the mercy:
Forever your name is All in One.
As a Southern Baptist child I learned that prayer is from the heart, spontaneous and said out loud. I was a shy girl and when the time came in our Sunday School assembly for someone to be called on to pray, I was always praying – please not me, not me! I was not afraid to talk to god. I was afraid to speak in front of all those other kids. What if I said it wrong? What if I couldn’t think of anything to say?
The only exception to spontaneous prayer I can recall is when we prayed The Lord’s Prayer from memory. It seems I have known this prayer all my life. I learned the King James Version with the occasional “thy” and “thine”. This is a prayer for help – god help me do what you want me to do, give me what I need to live, help me practice forgiveness, help me refrain from doing harm, help me. With each recitation, the words became more familiar, comfortable . . . spoken like a much loved poem as much as a prayer.
Eventually the language of Lord and Father were no longer images of comfort or help. The god they addressed was no longer my god. I stopped praying. I started searching for other words and images for the divine.
In the midst of that search, I spent a few months serving as a hospital chaplain. One of the patients I visited regularly was a man I met my very first day. He had cancer of the mouth and throat. When I was with him, he always asked that we read the Bible together. And he always asked that I pray with him, pray for him. He did not give a hoot about my struggle with language for the divine. It wasn’t the Lord’s Prayer he wanted. It was the Gospel of John. After we read from the Gospel, he wanted one of those spontaneous, from the heart, out loud prayers. One that asked god for help, one that reminded him his faith gave him hope, one that let him know he was not alone. I remember taking a deep breath – a kind of prelude to prayer. I vaguely remember muttering something on the inhale; something which must have been my version of a prayer for help finding words. Then I’d pray out loud. Because he was so very hard of hearing, I prayed out loud very very loudly. The nurses always knew when I was on the floor!
In that hospital room, and many others I visited, prayers were always of the “help” variety. Sometimes there were words of thanks, too – thanks for care provided by doctors and nurses, thanks for the love of family. I don’t remember any words of wow. Except my own . . . usually uttered in the face of extraordinary courage by a patient. With each patient, in every room . . . it was definitely a case of “prayer is us – humans merely being.” With that patient in that room where I shouted – prayer was us. A man dying of cancer. A chaplain doing her best. “Reaching out to something having to do with the eternal, with vitality, intelligence, kindness . . . when we are at our most doomed and utterly skeptical.”
Anne LaMotte wrote her own prayer for help, one she says uses in a pinch.
Hi God. I am just a mess. It is all hopeless. What else is new? I would be sick of me if I were you, but miraculously you are not. I know I have no control over other people’s lives, and I hate this. Yet I believe that if I accept this and surrender, you will meet me wherever I am. Wow, can this be true? If so, how is this afternoon – say two-ish? Thank you in advance for your company and your blessings. You have never once let me down. Amen.
I notice that she managed to get some thanks and a wow in there along with help.
My spontaneous hospital room prayers. Anne LaMotte’s prayer in a pinch. And the Lord’s Prayer. Help.
Both last year and this I’ve had the opportunity to return again to my roots in the Christian tradition, and become reacquainted with The Lord’s Prayer, a “beautiful pre-assembled prayer. . .” writes Anne LaMotte, “. . .a dressier prayer, a good china prayer”. . . used “for special occasions. . .when one is able “to get into a state of trust.”
In getting to know this prayer again after a long time away, I realize at one time or another I’ve experienced connections many of you may have as well. This prayer holds something of the sacred. It is a source of comfort. It is precious in its familiarity, a reminder of things cherished. The traditional language of the King James Version – with “they kingdom come, thy will be done” – is akin to poetry. For some the connection may go as deep as “it would not be worship without it.”
And at one time or another I’ve experienced the lack of connection many of you may know. The words just can’t be spoken. Some words can be said and not others. There are other modern interpretations of this prayer we can say together. Worship needs a variety of prayers from many sources.
I invite you to join me as, on several Sundays in March and April we experience different translations or interpretations of the prayer Jesus taught. The intention is to honor the life and teachings of Jesus, to connect to the deep roots of this congregation in Unitarian Christianity, and to invite you to think more or differently about this prayer. I hope you will join me following the service today for a conversation about this prayer and about prayer.
Like prayers of help, prayers of thanks come in many forms . . . That most amazing woman, poet Maya Angelou, wrote this prayer:
I want to thank You, God,
For life and all that’s in it.
Thank You for the day
And for the hour and for the minute.
I know many are gone;
I’m still living on.
I want to thank You.
There are prayers that call us to pay attention, to remember – like these words of Mother Teresa: Peace begins with a smile. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
And there is prayer as service when deep faith is expressed in action – as reflected in the words of Bengali Poet Rabindranath Tagore: I slept and dreamed that life was happiness. I awoke and saw that life was service. I served and found in service, happiness.
For now this final thought about prayer . . .
I grew up in a part of the South where “Bless your heart” and “I’m praying for you” are as common in conversation as “Howdy” and “How are you?” Sometimes it’s another bit of hospitality. Sometimes it’s an expression of the sincere belief that another is lost, doomed, and in need of soul saving.
During the days I spent in Lynchburg when my mom was dying, many folks - neighbors, friends, hospital staff, care givers, folks I barely knew. . would say at the conclusion of some encounter. . . I’m praying for you. At first I brushed it off as nothing more than polite habit under the circumstances. After a while I found myself saying thank you. You see, though I was “home” I was in a place I had left 35 years ago. I was far away from my community. I found support with my few friends, and with the local Unitarian Universalist minister. And. . .and once I decided to accept that all those folks who said they were praying for me really were . . . once I accepted that. . . I had this sense of being supported, of held, of being somehow “lifted up.” Prayer didn’t change things. It changed me.
Each Sunday when the singing bowl is sounded, when some of you share your deepest concerns, your greatest joys, when we share in a brief moment of sacred silence . . . each Sunday when we do that . . . we “hold” each and every one whose name is spoken aloud and held in thought. For those brief moments each and every one is lifted up.
And so may we all be.