We need to stop praying. It is important, as United Methodists move forward toward the contentious events of February 2019; prayer is no longer something we do. Instead, prayer is something we become. Grammatically speaking, we should stop using prayer as a verb. Prayer needs to become a noun; a part of who we are, our identity, and a defining feature of our interactions with the world.
Traditional notions of prayer, prayer as verb, are passive. While we are active in listening to the prayer requests of others and ourselves (in worship or elsewhere), our prayer lives serve as conduits to God. We know of needs, situations, and celebrations which (while God is omniscient and omnipotent) we feel led to bring to God’s attention and seek God’s intervention. Whether we’re petitioning God in the liturgy or through informal conversation, we’re taking what we’ve felt or heard and passing it along. We’re laundering prayer and whatever is contained within: misery, joy, sorrow, or love. This may happen on Sunday morning or throughout the week. Our prayers go back to God and we wait.
Waiting is hard, especially in times marked by strife and division. Perhaps this is one of those instances when we need to stop waiting and move beyond our prayer lists. Are our usual means of transferring concerns and moral discontent sufficient for a time such as this? I am not certain they are. We need to become our prayers. If we’re praying for equality, be equality first.
How do we become prayer? How do we live as prayer and not simply do prayer as one item on an overwhelmed task list? Recently, I worked my way through Ephesians again. I’m always impressed with last third of the 1st chapter, sometimes subtitled Paul’s Prayer. Paul seems to have the prayer has noun idea, rather than a detached verb concept, down pat. “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and you love for all the saints and for this reason I do not cease to give thank for you as I remember you in my prayers.” Listening and love are the two guardrails that keep the “life as prayer” train on track. Secondly, an outlook grounded in gratitude is the engine with fuels constant (ceaseless) prayer.
That’s how we stop praying and start being prayer. I do not believe answered prayers are the sole responsibility of the blanks spaces of blue sky or the darkness of a starry night. We are our own prayers. May it be so. Amen.
Richard Lowell Bryant