Learning to Pray Again - Reservoir Church
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Summer at Reservoir 2023

Learning to Pray Again

Rose Percy

Aug 06, 2023

 Luke 11: 1-12 New Revised Standard Version

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father,[a] hallowed be your name.

    Your kingdom come.[b]

Give us each day our daily bread.[c]

 And forgive us our sins,

        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

    And do not bring us to the time of trial.’[d]

Perseverance in Prayer

 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;  for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 

And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!’

I am learning how to pray again.

I am learning how to pray again, in the same way that I am learning how to play the guitar again, an instrument I have been playing for about 15 years.

It is easy to feel like I am okay when I stick to the neighborhood of notes and chords I am most familiar with. But when it comes to a song I have never played, filled with chords I rarely use or have never come across, the instrument feels foreign to me.

I am learning how to pray again, and it feels like learning how to play a new instrument because, in this season of life, I am praying in ways I’ve never prayed before. 

Which makes me wonder what it was like for the disciples to turn to Jesus and say

“Teach us how to pray,”

then to hear the Lord’s Prayer offered for the first time. I wonder what words stood out to them. Have you ever heard someone pray and wonder to yourself,

“Wait…I can say that to God? I can pray about that?” 

Many believers know The Lord’s Prayer “by heart,” and I think about what that phrase means when recitation can feel easy as breathing. Isn’t it a wonder how often something we once strained to learn moves through us with a fluency that makes it easy to take for granted? It makes me wonder…what is the point? Of remembering these words, but feeling and doing nothing to respond to them? What does it really mean to know something by heart?

As a young believer, I had a stack of index cards with scriptures on them. Soon I developed the ability to remember and recite these scriptures, a skill that helped as I began to write poems and memorize them. I performed these spoken word poems in churches. I remember performing a piece for a church event that was basically a 20 minute sermon that rhymed. After performing it, people came up to share their responses to it. Sadly, the memorization piece ended up being the most discussed part.

Wow, that was long. How did you memorize all that?”

I remember being upset by this question and sad as I thought the message was missed. 

I wondered if there was something wrong with me as a communicator. I looked at my Bible and said, “the words are right there…why isn’t it clicking?” I was also beginning to see this desperate call from scripture for justice and action. When I could relay its immediacy, I thought I had failed. In many ways, the convictions that led me to write that poem and offer it up in a performance through my body, led me to seminary. I wanted to do what I felt called to do better: relay God’s message to God’s people with whatever tools I had. 

I don’t remember that 20 minute poem anymore. Most of the poems I memorized during that season of life no longer resonate with the way my faith has changed in this season. They have since slipped away…I can no longer recall the words I once knew by heart. All I have left is their impressions, and the confused feelings of that last poem that still lingers with me and the theme of the event that inspired it: Kingdom Come.

I wrote that poem before I became a student of theology, where the Bible I felt I knew a little bit about became unfamiliar as I was learning how to read it differently. Words I thought I knew by heart were reintroduced to my mind clothed in layers of meaning and questioning. In the face of confronting more unknowns, I could no longer put my convictions into poetry, the language I used to speak most confidently to the world. 

It was not just that the Bible was unlocked in new ways, but the new tools of interpretation unlocked my self understanding in new ways. I became unfamiliar to myself, so did God…so did poetry. I became someone who was afraid to say anything with certainty and authority. What if I learned something new that would prove me wrong…again? 

In the years since, I’ve resolved to affirm that I am a communicator. Because I know how it feels to be distraught when I am misunderstood. Because I know how to find a story I think is worth sharing. Because I know this because I crave the answers and when I find them, I cannot wait for the opportunity to save someone else a trip — if I have already been there…I hope to save your breath. 

I truly believe some prayers are written to help us save our breath as much as they are reminders that we need to take one.

I am a communicator because I have worked for years to be able to speak some kind of truth today. So what I tell you, this is how I know a truth by heart—in the fight not to be disheartened. 

The work of recollection looks a lot different these days. There are prayers I pray, poems I read as prayers, and prose I return to time to time to recall the truth of light and abundance over darkness and scarcity.

In this way, every prayer I embrace as my own, whether I said/wrote it or not—is answered, with the sweet clarification that I am beloved. I am understanding now..it was never about the words I said, but in the impressions they left behind. 

To pray is to impress what can often be suppressed–the truth of who and whose we are…and what we are worthy of. 

As a spoken word poet, I stood in front of crowds and recited words that I had mastered–in memory and in a body I performed and played the meaning of the words that came out of my mouth. But I am learning how to remember again. 

Letting myself be guided by tenderness over tenacity with memorization as the goal. I am learning how to pray again, remembering the God who approaches me tenderly. 

When I remember I am beloved, God does not respond to my prayers with rejection…And in prayer I train my ability to sense, however subtle, light and the divinity it reflects my belovedness. 

Now I want to share with you a poem I have been using in my prayer time. But I ask that you focus on this moment and the impressions that linger for you. They will be the ones that matter when you recall this moment. Think of your impression as work of art on the wall in your mind. You choose the medium and design it as you’d like–it’s your imagination and this is not being graded: make whatever you want. 

I will give you a minute to capture your impressions and save a copy of it to review later, and I will end with some of mine.

If you want to follow along, the link is in the description

A Litany for Survival BY AUDRE LORDE

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed

futures

like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours;

 

For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive.

 

And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

 

So it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive.

 

I am left with the impression that as I live, I will be learning how to pray, in the same breath that I am learning to

“speak, remembering I was never meant to survive.”

I am learning how to navigate a world built on inequities. But this is not the only way—it doesn’t have to be. Our imaginations tell us there are alternative ways to live….

Despite systems of inequality, and death-dealing narratives scarcity and hopelessness…I am left with a truth that lingers when this heart sways—in God there is enough. And something in me knows it by heart, and when I need help to recall … .I am surrounded by community that reflects the truth of my belovedness because God has made sure I’m not the only one who knows it.

…..in the work of re-assembling or retelling the stories that shape core beliefs about who I am…My body remembers the sweet feeling of satisfaction and refuses to accept the conditions that robs us of our futures and leave us hungry. 

I am left with the impression that freedom…and the advocacy for that freedom go naturally together…from the mouth of the one who “speak(s), remembering (they) was never meant to survive.” 

I am learning how to pray again, holding the hope that God’s daily bread can satiate the hunger for the reminder that I am beloved. 

 

Benediction:

Henri Nouwen 

Let nothing disturb you

Let nothing frighten you. 

Those who cling to God 

will lack nothing

Let nothing disturb you 

Let nothing frighten you

God is enough