Conversing with God = Prayer
By Rev. Beth Lindsay Templeton
Founder and CEO
Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc.
People of faith pray. Praying is expected. Praying is nurturing. Praying is… fill in the blank based on your experience.
Some of us were taught to pray as children. We offered bedtime prayers. “Now I lay me down to sleep.” “Thank you, God, for Mommy, Daddy, Spot, and the garden hose.” We may offer a prayer of thanks before a meal.
Muslims pray set prayers at set times of the day. Observant Catholics pray using rosary beads or prescribed forms. Jews have rituals for sabbath as well as special times of the year or in life. Many of us pray memorized prayers: “Our Father” or “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name.”
There are various kinds of prayer. There is the ACTS prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. There is the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” There is centering prayer, contemplative prayer, intercessory prayer, and others.
What’s the appropriate language of prayer? Shall you use Thee, Thou, Thy, Saith? Pray with eyes open? Eyes closed? Standing, kneeling, sitting? Hands folded? Hands in lap? Hands uplifted? How do you address God: Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Allah, Jehovah, Divine Mystery?
Thinking you must pray “correctly” can get in the way of deep, true prayer, of connecting with God in your innermost being.
So, for just a moment, forget everything you’ve been taught about prayer. Imagine that you’re sitting in a comfortable spot in your home. There is someone sitting with you. You begin a conversation…aloud or in your mind. You share what you did yesterday and what you’ll do today. You mention the person who made you mad last week. You speak your concerns about a friend. You tell your fears about the world. You explain you want to explore new ways of loving and caring for your family members. You acknowledge to this trusted companion some of your deepest feelings and dreams.
And then you sit. Do you hear any words in your mind? Words that respond to anything you said? Can you listen to thoughts, feelings, phrases that pop into your head? Do you want to write down what you heard in your heart?
Okay. You’ve just experienced prayer. You’ve shared your deepest thoughts, feelings, and concerns with the Holy One. You’ve observed life around you and trusted God to listen, to care, and to wrap you with compassion and trust. You’ve heard some guidance that may be holy, may be God-given wisdom.
Sometimes you may need a prompt to move into this kind of conversation with the Lord God Almighty. You may turn to Psalms and find a phrase that captures what is going on in you right now. For example: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me” (Psalm 71:18). A photo, a poem, someone else’s prayer, a quote from a great thinker may help you move deeper into your reality. Using a list of descriptive names of God may be a prompt: Most Wondrous God of Vision, God of the Prophets, God of Joy, etc.
The ordinariness of our conversation with God, what we call prayer, is what makes it dynamite. It explodes our complacency and our isolation. It prods us to engage in the world in new ways. It moves us to depths we can hardly imagine.
Here’s an example of this kind of conversational prayer:
“God of Endings and Beginnings, I’ve rung in another new year. I want the slate to be wiped clean. Why do I think I must have a date on the calendar to begin anew? Why can’t I lean on you for my sense of renewal, refreshment, and recommitment to things that matter?
God of Life, be with me as I strive to be the person you are leading me to be. Expand me so I can be open to the magnificent, and let go of the mediocre. Put vision in my heart, insight in my mind, compassion in my ears, delight in my eyes, and dedication in my hands.
It’s a new year. Thank you for yet another opportunity to get it right. Amen”