Sunday, July 28, 2013

"How Do You Pray?"
A Guest Sermon for SFH
by the Rev. Dorota Pruski

This evening, St. Francis House celebrated Holy Eucharist at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Madison, where we were joined and welcomed by St. A's recently arrived Associate Priest, the Rev. Dorota Pruski. A blessing. With Dorota's permission, we reprint her homily here on the blog.

Which of you, by a show of hand, would say you are a good prayer?
(however you define that – praying often, having rich prayer experiences,  willing
to pray with others or lead others in prayer)

Without a second thought,
many of us let others sit in the passenger seat of our cars
as we drive 60 miles per hour,
but to have someone at our side as we address God directly?  No way.
Even talking about our prayer life can be difficult and often embarrassing.

Why is that?

I think many of us, myself included,
feel as though our prayer life falls short
of what the Christian life “should” look like.

We may feel ashamed that we don’t pray enough,
or we don’t pray for the “right things” in the “right way”,
or we don’t pray as well as someone else,
or we don’t pray as regularly as should, or for as long as we should, or as fervently
as we should…
We don’t think of ourselves as good prayers.

But none of us are alone in feeling this way, as we saw just now.

And all of us here are in good company with Jesus’ disciples when it comes to

Today’s gospel reading, like our readings from the past several weeks,
comes from Jesus’ long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Today, one of his disciples sees Jesus
returning from the place where he had been praying
and says, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

It’s a beautiful and tender moment in Luke’s narrative.
Here we have these disciples, whom Jesus has been teaching  
how to heal the sick and cast out demons,  
how to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God,  
how to be a good neighbor,  
how to be good disciple…
And after all this time spent learning these skills
and participating in miraculous healings,
what the disciples really want to know
is how to be better prayers.

So Jesus teaches them.

 “And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’”

Sound familiar?
These words (in a slightly different form)
are words we pray together every Sunday,
words many of us learned as children,
words some of us will remember long after our memories begin to fail us.

This prayer is extraordinary
not only because of the content of the prayer
but also because of the tone.

The words of the Lord’s Prayer may sound comforting to our ears,
but the Greek is actually a bit jarring.
It is written as a string of five imperatives—
basically they are five demands.

One Lukan scholar translates this using exclamation points at the end of each line.
Give us bread! Forgive our sins! Do not lead us into testing!
By teaching prayer in this way,
Jesus is giving his disciples and us
permission to let go of our shame about how we measure up
against whatever the “right way to pray” is.
Instead, he suggests we be honest. real. raw. and utterly shameless before God.

To highlight his point,
Jesus follows the prayer with a parable
in which a man knocks on his friend’s door in the middle of the night
asking for food.
Rather than denouncing the man’s behavior,
Jesus lifts him up as a model for how to pray.

He credits the man’s shamelessness—
rendered ‘persistence’ in the NRSV— as the
reason the man receives what he needs.
“The one who knocks (and knocks shamelessly) will have the door opened.”

I am not sure the lesson here is to try to be rude to God in prayer,
but what Jesus is teaching
is that prayer is more than what we think it is.
We are being invited to consider
that God is ready and waiting for us to knock at the door—
to engage in honest, shameless prayer that worries not
about style, length, or approach.

One of my favorite poems, written by Margaret L. Mitchell, speaks
to this point. It goes like this:

when it is all, finally, too much,
I climb into my car,  roll the
windows up,
and somewhere between backing out the driveway
and rounding the first corner,
I let out a yell that would topple Manhattan.
How do you pray?”

How do you pray? Putting aside questions about
often enough / long enough / eloquent enough / conventional enough
how do you pray?
Does it help to be on your knees? on your feet?
in the bathtub? in your bed?
What if you fall asleep during prayer, is that okay?
Would it help to read prayers from a book?
speak freely from your heart? not speak at all?
Do you pray for specific outcomes?
Do you light candles? incense?
Do you pray by singing along to your favorite song?
listening to music on your iPod?
laughing so hard your stomach hurts?

Does your joy in taking that first bite of a homegrown tomato count as prayer?
What about the worry that gnaws at you for the health of your friend – is that
And what about your hobbies/activities – working out, going for a walk, reading,
Can those be part of your prayer life?

I think the answer to all these possibilities must be yes. A resounding yes.
There is no right or wrong to prayer, there is just prayer –
the narrowing of distance between ourselves and God.
That’s it. That’s prayer.

And so we dare to pray shamelessly, un-self-consciously, and honestly,
bringing the truth that is on our hearts to God,
trusting that God is eagerly awaiting our knock at the door.

And because a sermon about prayer would not be complete without prayer,
I invite you to pull out your bulletins.  Later in the service we will recite the
more familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer, but for now
let’s pray together Luke’s version (Father – trial).

Let us pray:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial. AMEN.

1 comment:

  1. I like what this sermon says. I feel then it's OK to pray in different ways; OK to see activities as prayer; that I can be prayerfully human.