I get asked to pray. In public. A lot. And so, one of the things I think about a lot is prayer. I pray the Pastoral Prayer, grace when we eat, to start or stop a class or Bible Study, when I sit with people in a hospital room or waiting room. I try to "compose" the prayers in my head before -- I rely on phrases I use over and over -- I compose lengthy prayers for the pastoral prayer based on the Lecionary for that week. Last night my Disciple I class was studying Job. This is a group of people who have been together for a long time (well most of them) and I know their stories. I know that they know the difference between pain and suffering, anger and bitterness. They all have survived cancer or disease or divorce or the alienation of being "different" or living an "alternate lifestyle" or being a woman in a man's world or.... fill in the blank. We tried to talk about Job last night, but we really wandered far off topic -- ending up (of course) with the SE Asia Tsunami. Asking the same old questions, and dredging up the same old answers.
Finally, we ended up talking about prayer. And they asked me to pray. And I didn't know how. Boy, do I have experience. I could have tossed off the basic stenorous phrases I have used in the past, but they would have seen right through me. So I prayed from my heart. We held hands and cried and prayed. I wasn't smooth. Long gaps. Lots of silence. And later I realized that the real prayer was in those silences. God wasn't to be found in my words last night, but in my lack of words. I had to clear my words out of the way to let the Word exist. God many times doesn't exist in the black ink on the pages, but the white fire that exists between the letters.*
And I wonder what happens to my prayers.
Sometimes my prayers issue forth
As leaden ice cubes that plunk in the sand at my feet
And the crabs scurry to take them away.
Sometimes my prayers are butterflies
That flutter away only to live a day in their brightly colored ephemeral existence
Like fragile bones that are unable to support any weight.
Sometimes my prayers are bright hard diamonds
That drift up and embed themselves in the velvet darkness above my bed.
Cold and distant like stars
Suns that I cannot touch and cannot warm me with their power.
Sometimes my prayers are ocean liners
Huge steel behemoth that go where they want
Plowing the water aside carrying great cargo
Impossible to steer.
Sometimes when I pray my attention wanders
And I get entangled with the small tedium of the day
And I hope
My lack of attentiveness is not repaid in kind.
Sometimes I pray in my dreams
The frontier between consciousness and reality recedes
And I drift like a fetus in a womb not of my making
Not sure if my prayer is a dream or the dream a prayer.
Sometimes I can’t pray
The words won’t come and I can only sit in silence
Feeling the exquisite pain of solitude
A symphony of reclusion and stillness
Enfolded in God’s great silence.
*Nachmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman--the Ramban, 13th century Spain and Israel), in his preface to his commentary on the Torah, quotes a Rabbinic source which describes the Torah as having predated the creation of the world. This primordial, spiritual Torah was written in fire, black fire on white fire, and serves as a kind of mystical prototype for the actual, physical Torah, which is written in black ink on white parchment. (From and article written for The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel.)