A fresh look at what it means to pray

“So pastor, can you teach us to pray?” “Reverend, you’re a priest, what can you tell me about prayer”. “Minister, I don’t think that I pray enough each day. How many minutes do you think that I should set aside?”

These are real questions that people have asked me. Although it was probably more likely in past generations, when people see that you’re wearing a clerical collar, they assume that you must know all about prayer.

Sorry, most of us still feel like we’re at kindergarten level. I thought it might discourage the person wanting some time parameters on personal prayer to know that studies say most religious people pray around six minutes a day; clerics about eight minutes. So I usually don’t give a time estimate to people.

“So, pastor, what can you say about prayer?”

Well, if people are looking for methods and ways to do corporate praying, our churches offer many opportunities. At St. Saviour’s you can come every Sunday and pray with others, as well as singing, and sharing meals together. Each Tuesday morning you can start your work day with a quiet 20 minute Anglican prayer service. Once a month we host a Centering Prayer group, devoted to silent meditation and then sharing our personal stories. One Saturday a month, our women come together to dance our prayers. All of these methods are time-honoured and can be life-changing. There is something powerful, yet intimate, about praying with others for our own lives and the concerns of our hurting world.

Often I’ll say that prayer is a conversation. How do we get to know people and build relationships? By conversing and sharing with them. Try thinking of prayer as building a new relationship. Be authentic. Say what’s on your heart.

Like any relationship, take time to be silent (meditation). That’s part of prayer too. You don’t need to be in a formal place of worship to do any of this kind of relating.

I think that often questions on prayer are really about connecting with a bigger story than our own individual concerns and projects. Most of us, whether religious, spiritual, or wholly secular, want to have a bigger purpose in life – to feel that we matter in a larger picture. Prayer can be one way to explore that bigger canvas.

Jesus was asked by his followers to teach them to pray. One would think after seeing his miracles and his great empathy with those who were oppressed and poor that they would have asked for those abilities.

Maybe they saw, however, that his involvement in the lives of others was based on his deep connection with the one he called “Abba,” or father. Having this cosmic connection allowed him to see all people as who they truly were: beautiful, hurting, complex children of God. No labels. No judgment.

In answer to their question, Jesus gave these followers what has become known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ It is short, the language is non-religious, and it covers all aspects of life. And it begins with “Our Father.” We are all linked together in the common human family. It is worthy pondering, and there are many books written about it.

But maybe even that seems daunting, and a bit too religious. One of my favourite authors is Anne Lamott. Novelist and essayist, she is honest, pithy, and usually quite hilarious. Her most recent book is on prayer. Or as she writes in her title, the three essential prayers. When I heard this, I thought ‘great, here’s something I can use when I’m asked questions on this topic.’

So what are these three essential prayers? Help – Thanks – Wow. Hmm … simple, but words that are usually on our tongues on a daily basis. Most of us have probably even seen the first two words as prayer words.

But the third? Wow. As a prayer it can link me to marvel at beauty and ingenuity and kindness. Maybe it can even move my own actions towards creating those wow moments in the service of others.

So may your prayer life be rich – whether it’s in a formal place of worship, or out in our amazing world. Thanks for reading this – I hope it helped. Wow … that would be something …

You can google ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ if you are unfamiliar with it. Anne Lamott’s book Help Thanks Wow is in the Toronto Public Library.

Rev. Shelley McVea is the priest-in-charge at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, located at Kimberley and Swanwick Ave. Services are at 10:30 a.m. every Sunday. www.stsaviours.ca

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