31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 28, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
For Lent one year, the Rev. Rachel Hackenberg, a United Church of Christ pastor, took up the challenge of writing a prayer for each day of Lent. Sitting down with pen and paper was a spiritual practice that was already “deeply satisfying” to her as she found joy “in seeking out the precise words to articulate the prayerful sentiment that [she] wanted to convey”. Writing and praying helped Rev. Hackenberg feel “more connected to prayer than [she] had ever experienced…..and more imaginatively connected to the mystery that is God.” (writing to GOD: 40 Days of Praying with my Pen, Rachel G. Hackenberg, pg vi-vii)
While she found it challenging to write every day, she also discovered that the daily practice helped her begin “to let go of the worry that my prayer discipline was insufficient and to simply enjoy the connection of my whole self with the Whole and Holy One.” (writing to GOD: 40 Days of Praying with my Pen, Rachel G. Hackenberg, pg viii)
In her book Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, Sybil MacBeth also shares the blessings she finds in a life of prayer:
To connect and be in relationship with God; to express awe and wonder; to experience inner stillness and calm; to get my priorities straight; to ask for help and healing; to rant, rage, complain, protest; to confess the stuff I’m not proud of; to ask for forgiveness; to express my concerns and hopes for other people; to offer thanksgiving and gratitude; to become “right-sized”: not to think too little of myself, not to think too much of myself; to reevaluate my life; to listen for and to God; to remember that I am a child of God. (Praying in Color, Sybil MacBeth, pg 23-24)
Prayer for me is also an opportunity to connect and be in relationship with God, to be reminded that I am a child of God. Prayer also connects me with others as I pray for their hopes and concerns. Prayer brings me peace as I turn my thoughts, joys, and worries over to God, who is much more capable of handling them.
Prayer gives me hope, brings me comfort, and generally makes my life better. There is a reason why prayer is the heart of our communal worship. Prayer is powerful.
Prayer transforms lives and the world.
The Apostle Paul tells the Colossians to “devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2)? To the Christians in Rome, he writes “persevere in prayer”. (Romans 12:12), and to the Thessalonians, he writes “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
The blessings of a life devoted to prayer, a life of unceasing prayer are numerous. I want those blessings for myself; I want those blessings for you.
And yet, as numerous as the blessings of a life of unceasing prayer are, so are the obstacles. Even Rachel Hackenberg and Sybil MacBeth, two writers who are devoted to prayer, who teach about prayer, have things that keep them from praying.
Rev. Hackenberg confesses that sometimes she finds she is too tired, too busy with family or pastoral responsibilities to write daily or even weekly. Sometimes, the Spirit does not move at her at the time she has carved out for prayer.
Sybil MacBeth also has a list for why we don’t pray as often as we might:
You make a list of the people for whom you want to pray and then don’t know what to pray for. You fumble for the right words and deem the effort hopeless. You want to like the act of praying, but it is more often obligation and drudgery than joy. Your kindergarten image of God doesn’t seem real anymore, so you wonder who you are praying to – or You are not sure anyone is out there or is listening. (Praying in Color, Sybil MacBeth, pg 9-10)
We each have our own obstacles when it comes to prayer, beliefs and reasons that keep us from a life of unceasing prayer; however when we can set those things aside, we discover the blessings to be found in a life of unceasing prayer, the blessings to be found in connecting more deeply with God.
Whether you are starting this path of prayer or taking the next step, it is important to acknowledge there is no one path. There is no “right” way to pray. There are no “right” words. No “right” place. Just as God has created us uniquely, there are also different paths to pray and connect with God.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray and shared what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer, he did not say, “This, this is the only way to pray. These are the only words.” Especially since Jesus did not speak King James English.
Instead, Jesus wanted his followers to understand that prayer is about relationship. In the two metaphors Jesus uses for prayer, he compares God to a friend and to a parent. The word Jesus used for “Father” would have been better translated as “Daddy”.
Prayer isn’t about having formal and flowery words. A life of unceasing prayer is about relationship, a close relationship with God where you can talk to God, any time, any where, in any way.
A life of unceasing prayer is also about persistence and perseverance. Prayer isn’t about trying it once, not getting an immediate response, and then giving up. Neither though is prayer about obligation, determinedly sitting there day after day wondering who you are talking to, wondering if this is working, but determined none the less.
Persistence and perseverance in prayer sometimes means challenging ourselves to set aside more time for prayer. And sometimes, it means acknowledging that the way you have been praying, the way you think you should pray, the way you have been taught to pray, is just not working for you. Sometimes, the best path to a life of unceasing prayer is to start down a new path.
I am a visual person and a words person so putting pen to prayer in a doodle prayer or in response to a prayer prompt brings me a deep sense of peace and fulfillment as I connect with the mystery that is God.
Your life might be transformed by reciting traditional prayers on a regular basis: the Serenity Prayer, the Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, in any version.
Maybe your path involves being silent and still, wrapped in a cozy prayer shawl. Maybe it involves moving – walking outside, walking a labyrinth, walking your fingers across a set of prayer beads.
There are so many different forms of prayer, so many different paths of prayer. So explore. Choose the path that helps you to pray with persistence, the path that encourages you to pray without ceasing. Most of all, choose the path that blesses your life and connects you with God.