Today’s question comes from Stevie. She writes: “Our last discussion of prayer has been on my mind. Do many people use different kinds of prayer? I, for example, often talk to God in private as if he’s an old friend–thanking him, discussing my day, asking him to keep my loved ones safe. Then there are times I just connect with Him, feeling His power and getting strength from Him, and feeling that I get messages from Him on how to do things better. Then there are times when I pray with others, feeling community. Am I weird?”
No, Stevie. You aren’t weird at all.
One of my mentors in seminary – Rev. Jane Vennard – taught me a wonderful thing about prayer. Jane is an ordained UCC pastor who has a ministry of spiritual direction and retreat leadership. She was an adjunct professor at the seminary I attended (The Iliff School of Theology) and has written several books on prayer.
In the course I took with her at the end of my first year in seminary, Jane uttered a sentence I have never forgotten: “Prayer is an attitude, not an activity.”
What did she mean by that?
Lot of us think there is only one or two ways to prayer (i.e. either alone with one’s head bowed and hands clasp or in a group setting with someone leading). While those two methods of prayer can be helpful ways for some to connection with God, they are not helpful for everyone.
Some people connect best to God in other ways. I, for instance, connect with God best through music. That’s why I feel closest to God participating in a musical experience (i.e. singing a Taize chorus, playing something on the piano, or singing a hymn with a congregation). Other people feel closest to God when they are engaged physically. A colleague of mine by the name of Doug Pagitt wrote a wonderful resource for these folks called “Body Prayer” that gives some helpful ideas for how to pray with our bodies. Other folks connect best with God through the spiritual disciplines of meditation or mindfulness: ways of connecting with God that emphasize listening to – rather than talking at – God.
There are hundreds of ways we can pray because – using Rev. Vennard’s wisdom – what matters most is not the specific activity (or activities) that we engage in. What matters most is the attitude we bring to the activity. As she shared with us, even engaging in activities like washing our car or walking our dog can be a form of prayer if – as we engage in the activity –we focus our hearts on the feelings of gratitude we feel for the blessings we have been given.
Those are a few thoughts I wanted to share as today we begin this season of Lent: a time of prayer and penitence for Christians around the globe. What about you? What things does Stevie’s question raise for you?