Prayer: An Invitation to Sit in the Disorientation - Reservoir Church
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Prayer: An Invitation to Sit in the Disorientation

Lydia Shiu

Jan 21, 2024

Psalm 13[a]

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome them,”

    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;

    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,

    for God has been good to me.

My laundry machine broke in the middle of a wash this week. I was wondering how I was going to start my sermon this week, and see, the Lord provides! A whole load, wet, and the spin button does nothing except make a sad little “wheee” noise. I had to squeeze and individually hang the clothes on a dry rack like we were in the 1950’s! And as I did that monotonous task I prayed. I prayed why Lord, in the middle of a load? I’m busy today and I’ve got a thousand things on my mind (probably more like just 20) but still, (prayers are meant to be a space where I can exaggerate my complaints).  And God you picked today to break my machine?!? 

I don’t know if that’s faith or foolishness, thinking that God timed and controlled my washing machine, but it’s probably not a healthy theology, one which I blame God for the inconveniences of my life. I wasn’t really serious about those thoughts. I moved on quickly to what I need to do, agency of thyself. I think prayer can do that for us. A sifting of our frivolous thoughts. Morning pages of our mumbled jumbled crazy unreasonable minute details. I think those are some of the best prayers to be honest. When we simply can talk through our emotions, move through our feelings about it, no matter how small or big, taking a journey, a movement through the ebbs and flows of life, the ups and downs. 

Whenever I think about prayer, I think about the Psalms.

  • Because there was a time when I didn’t know how to pray and reading through the Psalms helped me.
  • When I didn’t know how to speak to the reality of the situation truthfully, the Psalms did it clearly and boldly.
  • When I needed to whine and complain and say crazy things to God, Psalms did it better than me.
  • When I didn’t know how to land or affirm or turn back to God because I didn’t have the courage to say, “I trust in you God”, the Psalms invited me and nudged me and said it before I could.

Walter Bruggerman, a White American Old Testament scholar, and I say White because I realize when it’s Black or Asian-American I say that – so like to be fair and not like White is the norm, like a White scholar is just a scholar and Black scholar is a Black scholar. ANYWAYS, in his book, The Message of the Psalms, he talks about the Psalms in three categories. There are Psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation, and Psalms of new orientation or reorientation. Orientation meaning, for example, Psalm 1, a prayer that is sure. That speaks about God and life in black and white.

Blessed are the righteous and the wicked perish.

Bruggerman goes on to say that

though all of life starts there, simple, clear truths about God and life, but any life lived a bit knows and faces “disorientation”. Life that is marked by quote, “disequilibrium, incoherence, and unrelieved asymmetry.”

So Psalms like today’s Psalm 13, begin to lean into the disorientation of life, to ask questions,

how long, why is it that I actually see the wicked prosper? 

It was these Psalms of disorientation that gave me the honest and real invitation to prayer that made me be able to actually pray at a moment in my life. Because there was a time when prayer was taught to me to be more about the sureness. The praising of God. The thanksgiving. The assurance of faith. The trust we have in God. And only that. I was not directly taught to question God or what to do with the disorientation, the inconsistencies, the incongruences I saw and experienced in the world, except that it was all God’s will, which was more confusing.

Bruggerman critiques such tradition- yes it does reinforce sturdy faith or a way of speaking prophetically what we don’t see in the world, but that at times churches taught this way of prayer of orientation, prayer of assurance as a way of numbing, denial, ignoring the realities of our lives.

He says,

“It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened,

numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the

disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation

seems to come, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our

culture.’ Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination

for passionate Bible users, given the large number of psalms that are songs of

lament, protest, and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the


And I resonate with that. Sometimes cliche or resolution too complete with a bow on top didn’t feel quite right to me. 

So an aspect of prayer I think is an invitation to “loss of control.” It’s making wild accusations to God. Are you not listening? Are you just kind of forgetful? Or are you hiding? You’re nowhere to be found God! And these questions turn our hearts, and take us through where it needs to go through. Our faith, spirituality, and our feelings are not just magical black holes that appear in one place and reappear in a totally different place in an instant. We need the journey of praying-through. 

And only by going through that orientation and then disorientation, can we honestly and squarely land on a re-orientation. Where we can be honest about the pain and THEN say, like in verse 5

“BUT I trust in your unfailing love;”

In Psalm 73:23 it says,

“YET I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” 

It’s the BUT and YET that I find comfort in. Because without them, it just sounds like a nice throwaway statement that knows not the depth of my suffering or confusion. 

I want to stay a bit more on the disorientation though. Because as someone who feels like my negative thoughts had to be just powered through rather than held with tenderness, I think we could do more to create safer spaces of prayer for ourselves and one another. To not have to jump to conclusions, resolutions, or faith. But to be okay sitting in the grief, the anger, the questions. To REALLY trust God to be able to handle them. When I have faith, who needs help with prayer? When I’m strong, I know how to pray prayers of thanksgiving. But when I’m not, I have no words. That’s when I don’t know how to pray.

I remember one time I was complaining about something to my friend over text on Instagram messenger, I don’t know if different platforms have different vibes for me. I was angry and heartbroken about the world. I was distraught about the war that’s going on where people are being raped, enslaved, bombed, starved, and so forth. It’s weird in this day and age to be able to see the broadcasting of genocide right in my hands in the comfort of my own bed. It’s disturbing.

It felt good to tell her my rage and I took a sad selfie of me sitting on the floor crying, but it was one of those disappearing pictures of course. She replied with a picture from a book. It was a prayer. It was called Prayer of Anger and Confrontation from a book called Liturgies from Below: 462 acts of worship. Praying with People at the Ends of the World. 

I want to give you a quick background to the work so here’s what the book description says: 

It’s been said that prayer is the vocabulary of faith. This book offers a wealth of resources from forgotten places to help us create a new vocabulary for worship and prayer, one that is located amidst the poor and the major issues of violence and destruction around the world today. It is a collection of prayers, songs, rituals, rites of healing, Eucharistic and baptismal prayers, meditations and art from four continents: Asia-Pacific Islands, Africa, Americas, and Europe.

Liturgies from Below is the culmination of a project organized by the Council for World Mission (CWM) during 2018-2019. Approximately 100 people from four continents worked with CWM, collaborating to create indigenous prayers and liturgies expressing their own contexts, for sharing with their communities and the rest of the world. The project was called “Re-Imagining Worship as Acts of Defiance and Alternatives in the Context of Empire.”

And I looked back at this to share with you, and honestly I can’t relate with it now, maybe I’ve had a better week without too much anger. But I had replied to her with

“Thank you for this. Now this prayer I can pray!”

It said this:

They ask us to sing songs

Is the strange land of undignified life

But we are already tired

Of waiting and waiting for unfulfilled promises


We will hang our harps on trees!

We will not sing anymore! No more praises!

Our worship of God will be on strike!


Until your justice manifests

Until we see your life’s will

Touching our pains

And healing our wounds

Embracing our forgotten soil

And restoring broken hopes

Guitars and drums will not sound

And our mouths will be silent!


Until the song of Mary is fulfilled

Until the Spirit of God renews creation

Until the loving power of the creative force

Fully establishes the inclusive project

From the Nazarene traveler, God, a supportive friend

Until that day, may It come!


We will not celebrate, we will not have services

We will not sing praises… We will strike! 


–From Psalm 137: 3-4; Psalm 137:2; Luke 1:51-55

Even as I read this now, I can’t say I can relate because today I do feel like dancing and singing. It was almost weird to look back at my texts with my friend of mine holding dearly to my friend’s comfort through this prayer to me at the time. Writing texts like,

“Where is this prayer from??” “I feel like a mess…”

And we both shared when we cried last and how I was reaching for a brownie and she was for a pumpkin pie. 

And maybe for many of you, this doesn’t resonate. Like we just literally sang with guitar and drums and you liked it. But in case there are any of you out there, who had trouble even having the strength to stand for our song worship prayers, or who felt like you didn’t get hit with some happy spirit for some reason, you’re not alone. You’re okay. You’re not weird. Or a bad Christian with subpar faith. You are simply going through life, that includes disorientation. And prayer for all of us is an invitation to go through our assurances, our questions, our disorientations and discomfort and hopefully back to a kind of new orientation that you never knew and never could’ve known unless you went through stuff. But I trust in your unfailing love. Yet I am always with you.

Bruggerman said this about new orientation

“new orientation: they are songs not only of social control but also of social anticipation and criticism.”

Whereas orientation sometimes felt like it was trying to control me from having negative feelings. New orientation allows me to see and accept things as is AND see through, see forward, see beyond a new way. With hope and a critical eye. Don’t you love that? The BUT, YET, and AND of prayer. 

Prayer moves you to the next. Prayer is defiance. 

My friend Rev. Dr. Peter Choi, I quote him a lot in my sermons cause I love his work. He has an online learning platform that I’m a member of. It’s like $100 a year. Called Faith and Justice Network, and MAN they have GREAT GREAT GREAT content. You should sign up. And then you’ll see where much of my content comes from inspired from. So this week Peter said this; 

Prayer is justice work. Refusing to accept the status quo. Prayer is protest. 

Prayer is justice work. Refusing to accept the status quo. Prayer is protest. 

How true. How beautiful. That our words are not mere complaints but that it’s our hearts on the picket line. Our longings at display. Prayer as protest and justice work.

  • Does that resonate with you?
  • What do you write on your prayer poster today?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What do you kneel for?

May that be a prayer for you. 

I also know that prayer hits differently for different folks. Heck, like the prayer I read earlier, apparently that really hit me that one day my friend shared with me, but it does not strike a chord this week. So let me offer another metaphor if prayer as a protest doesn’t resonate with you. 

To pray is to be sober. Many of us live our lives in a lull. In the busyness of our days. Work. Entertainment. Going from task to task. We’re constantly stimulated with ads, social media, ideas, pre-occupations, regrets. We play the past over and over or the future over and over and we don’t know how to simply be. To pray is to be sober from the world’s incessant words over us. Sobriety from what the world tells us who we are.

Who do you say I am? Not what anybody else says but in God, who am I? 

They have a saying in the AA, alcoholics anonymous world. Get yourself to a meeting. And for some, it’s a daily necessity. To go to a meeting. To be around the people that know you and get you and are on the same journey as you, that is saying the same thing you are saying about themselves. Each day, any day you slip and forget that for a moment, that’s when you know you need to get yourself to a meeting. Because you need to be reminded. You need to be spoken over whatever crazy thought that entered your mind. I think that’s what prayer is. Getting yourself to a meeting. 

AA’s powerful 12 steps take addicts through the process of becoming sober. It’s got some beautiful shifts and turns that even if you’re not an addict, although some would argue that we live in an addictive world where all of us are constantly stimulated. I think it’s a beautiful movement that could maybe apply to many of us. So I want to end our time by taking us through 12 steps as a prayer for us today. 

Maybe it’s not your powerlessness over alcohol but maybe some other parts of our lives, or our world. I personally often grieve the powerlessness I feel over our world of politics and war. 

So let me pray the 12 step prayer through. I’ll change the words from alcohol to maybe something else, or maybe you can put something else. It’s a humbling thing, prayer in 12 steps, a method from an addict’s approach. Maye we try humbling ourselves together, in solidarity with those who seek sobriety, or maybe dare I say that many of us might be seeking sobriety from alcohol, from porn, from marijuana, from pain killers, from food, from sex, from social media, from numbing ourselves, from work, from efficiency/productivity, from being complicit to violence, from laziness, whatever it is, whatever that may be good in moderation even but that has hindered your life, hurt others, may we lift it up in humility to God in prayer together as we close.

Dear God. 

  1. We admit that we were powerless— that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. We believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. We turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. 
  4. Helps us to search and do a fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admit to you God, to ourselves, and to other human beings the nature of our wrongs.
  6. We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Help us to make a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Guide us to direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Give us the courage to continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong to promptly admit it.
  11. Keep bringing us back to prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with you God as we understand you, praying only for knowledge of Your will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. And as we experience a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, may we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

We pray


Thank you for praying with me. I hope that this time carries on with you and bear fruit in the ways they should, God willing. Thanks for worshiping together with us. Till next time. Peace.