Friday, February 18, 2005

Prayer therapy

I got so fed up with myself this morning.

I come from the Quiet Time Journaling tradition. The one where you record your prayers in some giant spiral bound notebook--or in my care, in an ever-growing document that currently has more pages than my next novel--typically while following the "ACTS" outline: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. And for the last few weeks, this prayer form has struck me as being so inadequate. I realized today that I could basically cut and paste yesterday's entry in for today, change the date, add a thank you for last night's dinner out with my teaching friends, and be done. And I realized that this is not what prayer is.

Prayer is supposed to be conversation with God, is it not? And yet I'm the one doing all the talking. Or writing, as the case may be. And I'm a broken record when it comes to my side of the conversation. Honestly, I don't know how NOT to be. I thank him for the same things every day because I'm always thankful for them, I ask him for the same things every day because I still want them. I ask his forgiveness for the same things every day because I'm a dense pattern sinner who can't seem to find her way out of the rut. So how do I do these things without my prayer life becoming mindless?

I was poking around Lisa Samson's blog again today and saw a link to another blog called "Ragamuffin Diva." The Diva's most recent entry was about her husband's Valentine's Day gift to her: Anglican prayer beads. She talked about the symbolism of the various beads, the prayers she prayed, the prayer book she had that someone had given her. And it reminded me of the book, "Girl Meets God," which you really must read if you haven't yet. She was a devout Jew who converted to Christianity and attended a church full of ritual and tradition--like the celebration of Advent, which I didn't even know the meaning of until reading that book. And I got the same feeling reading the Diva's blog that I did reading that book: that there was a whole other side to prayer and Christianity that I've never glimpsed, and I'm starting to feel cheated.

You see, I think I'm a Catholic trapped in a nondenominational-Protestant body. I think all those things the modern church shies away from--the symbolism, the tradition, the ritual--are the things that most draw me to God. Heck, when it comes to tradition and ritual in other aspects of my life, I LOVE them, I expect them, and am profoundly disappointed when they're overlooked or forgotten by the others in my life. So it would make sense that I'd thrive on them in my spiritual life. And I understand why the church has tried to rid itself of those trappings, that the traditions and rituals became the priority and the whole relationship-with-God thing sorta fell by the wayside because people mistook them as being the end instead of the means. But I think we've gone so far in the other direction that we've lost our spiritual heritage, and with it, a very important connection to the mystery of God. And I feel like, if I could just tap back into it, the whole prayer thing would just open up for me.

Or maybe I'm just a flake when it comes to prayer, and it doesn't really matter what form it takes, because I'll fall back into the cut-n-paste prayer life every time.

So now I pose this question to those of you who stumbled in today: what form does your daily prayer life take? Are you a journaler? Have you figured out how to keep it from becoming rote? Are you an in-your-head prayer? How do you keep your mind from wandering? Are you a traditionalist and ritualist? Prayer-bead user, stations-of-the-cross walker? I look now to my brothers and sisters in the faith to give me a little prayer therapy.


MER said...

I don't pray, I just analysis. I found that my answers are lurking around in the grocery store, on the train even in the ignorant things people say. I do get upset about this path, but I still belive in accountability; the answers are in front of me.

I do have mala beads,which I like to say I grew fond of while docking at the coast of buddhism. They seem to be more of a statement to allow someone to engage me rather than just the lineage of buddhist tradition.

Will said...

Alison, like you I came from the "Quiet Time" tradition and have been thrilled as an adult to discover lectio divina and other forms deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church. I find my love for God and my walk with Christ richer and fuller today because of these beautiful traditions. I might recommend Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" series as another addition.

lisa said...

I should have known! Will beat me here. he's such a geek. Ha!!

I was raised Catholic and Protestant, Alison. (Dad Catholic.) I'd go back in a heartbeat if Will was with me. As it stands, when we move to Lexington, maybe Episcopal will be a great middle ground.

And for you, Ms. Strobel-Morrow, to admit how much you'd love more liturgical Christian expressions, is indeed brave!! You just go on with your bad self! I love it.

Alison Strobel Morrow said...

Hey Lisa! It's funny, actually--both my brother and I are so not into the mega church thing anymore. He has a lot of issues with them in general and has been really harsh in his personal opinions; I on the other hand could never bear to bad-mouth them even a little because without them who knows where my family and I would be?! But we both attend small churches and Kyle (brother) is thinking of doing a church plant. Wild.

That's interesting that you were raised as both; I didn't know that. Good luck with the church search when you move--that always sucks. Took me four years to find the one we're at now!