Friday Five: Waiting and Praying

This week, Sally gives us a Friday Five based on the Ascension story that I had the privilege of reading in church last night, and that we’ll hear again Sunday morning. Here are the questions for this week:

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?
2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?
3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?
4. Do you prefer stillness or action?
5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to recieve?

And my answers are as follows:

  1. Yes.
  2. Yes.
  3. Yes.
  4. Yes.
  5. The ability to say no?

Hee hee! Seriously, though – pray best? What on earth does that mean? Is any kind of prayer better than any other? I guess there can be dishonest prayer, mouthing words like “I praise you glorious God for your majesty and glory” when what you’re thinking and feeling is, “God, you’re such a bastard for turning my life inside-out, and I wish you’d leave me the hell alone.” So while the more honest and authentic prayer isn’t exactly pretty, I gues it would be the better prayer. I think some of the most heartfelt prayers are the one-word “arrow prayers,” like Oh God! or Please! or Help! And I think some of the prayers most beloved by God are ones like God, I’m having trouble forgiving this person, and I know I can’t do it on my own; will you help me?

We could say that some kinds of prayer are better than others because of how they make us feel. But then, is the purpose of prayer to make me feel good? Or is it something more than that? Is it our obligation to stretch ourselves in prayer, so that we continue to try out the kinds of prayer that are hard for us or that are a little bit uncomfortable or that don’t always make us feel good? I have found real meaning in centering prayer, but the actual exercise of centering prayer is almost zen-like, an emptying, ignoring even those good feelings that we find in prayer.

What I will say about praying with others, particularly in liturgical corporate worship, is that sometimes the prayers of the others carry me along when I’m not able to pray those prayers. On the days that I have trouble believing in the Resurrection, when we come to the Creed in worship, the faith of my brothers and sisters carries me. And maybe someone else there is struggling with the virgin birth, or the doctrine of the Trinity, or something else where my faith and prayers can carry them. That’s just an example, but I know it to be true. And sometimes, even the words in the Book of Common Prayer carry me through when I might not otherwise know what to say. When I’m at a loss for how to pray, having the words for Morning Prayer or Compline there is a great gift. I know that Christians can be criticized for going through the motions on Sunday and then failing to live out what we’ve heard and said and done in worship, and there is some truth to this. There is also grace present when we just show up for worship (or even our own private devotions) and go through the motions when we don’t particularly want to. Sometimes, these are the moments when God breaks through the barriers and really touches us, because we have made that sacrifice of time and energy and presence. So I find that those times I least feel like praying or worshipping – these are the times when I need to just show up. Just say the words. And grace will happen.

I’m not particularly fond of waiting. I’m a J type, and I like things decided, planned, and then carried out. Waiting is hard for me. But over the last several years, I’ve grown more comfortable with the grey areas, with living into the mystery, into the waiting. I’m gaining a new appreciation for those in-between times, and I try to honour them as they deserve to be honoured. As far as anticipation v. anxiety – I think that depends entirely on what I’m waiting for. If it’s the results of a medical test, then it’s likely to be anxiety. If it’s counting the days until my fiancé and I next get to be with each other, then it’s more anticipation. Either way, there is something special in that time of waiting, in the time between not-knowing and knowing, between not-having and having. It is sacred ground, and it deserves to be treated that way.

Waited on God for a specific promise? Okay, I’ll admit that I don’t know really what that means. Maybe it’s my J-ness, but I don’t tend to wait on God. Yes, I will engage in listening. Yes, I can wait for things to be fulfilled, but usually I have a part to play in the fulfillment of things, and that is not usually simply waiting and being. Sometimes it is – pregnancy comes to mind. But more often, there is time for waiting and being, and there is time for helping God bring God’s promise to life.

So that flows neatly into my next answer: stillness or action? Yes. 🙂 I can find stillness hard sometimes, which usually means that is when I most need it. Sometimes stillness is what is needed, and sometimes action is what is needed. Sometimes it’s hard to discern the difference, so I have to pay attention to the indicators around me, to where the Holy Spirit is whispering to me (or trying to hit me with that blasted clue-by-four again).

And that one gift… I’ve already been developing the ability to say no. I said that above mostly for the funnies – and because I know that most of us have to struggle with that one. I’m not sure what gift to ask for. Patience is always helpful. I’d also like the gift of about 100 fewer pounds, and as many of those as possible off of the boobs, please. The gift of not having to worry about my joints or pain any more. The gift of being able to clearly see the path ahead, no matter what is going on in my life. The gift of being able to hear and identify God’s voice instantly, like those ANNOYING people in the Old Testament, rather than having to sift it out and put it together from all the background noise. The gift of having my fiancé here with me, rather than 700 miles away in Canada – well, there’s that damned waiting again! 🙂

I guess that’s more than one, huh? I appear to be rather demanding, and probably high-maintenance. Oh well!

Happy Friday to you all – I can’t wait to read the other responses to this. Peace and blessings to you, in this in-between time between the Ascension and the Pentecost!

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8 thoughts on “Friday Five: Waiting and Praying

  1. I love that you want the gift of saying no! Maybe you could pray for me to get that gift, and I’ll pray for you to get it? 🙂

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  2. I agree with your thoughts about liturgical prayer in community…or even alone, with a breviary…the prayers of others (even in other times and places) can carry me along when I really don’t have the words or the energy.

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  3. That’s a great point; what’s it mean to say that we pray “best” in one situation and not another? For me, it has only to do with the fact of actually praying, which lately I’ve done “best” (i.e. more frequently) in community. I find that when I’m in a dry period of my faith, personal prayer is very hard. And yet I don’t want to give up on prayer altogther, so I lean on the community to bring me through. I really appreciated your thoughts on that.

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  4. “The gift of having my fiancé here with me, rather than 700 miles away in Canada – well, there’s that damned waiting again!”

    Oh my gosh! That is a major way in which I am waiting, and I didn’t even think of it. Involves a promise, too.

    I am a “J”, also, and am also not in love with waiting! But I’m better at it than I used to be.

    I love your post!

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