When I was younger and new in the faith, I despised written prayers. They were for the lukewarm, those not alive in the Spirit.
Well, “when I was a child, I talked as a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” (1 Corinthians 13:11a). My arrogance embarrasses me now. I trust I’m becoming a man and putting those childish ways behind me (v. 11b).
As I’ve moved half-way through my 50’s, I’m finding that my early form of praying now seems hollow and shallow. I need words that reach into my soul with sustenance and substance. I need words that transform.
My words don’t seem to cut it anymore. I get tired hearing me repeat familiar pleas. I find a good deal of my words sound like I’m counseling God, as if he lacks wisdom.
Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by meaningless and vain repetition.
My prayer life now consists laregely of silence. Once in a while I’ll come across a well-crafted written prayer that nails the yearning of my soul. Both are rather refreshing.
Once such written prayer deals with the current military conflicts occurring in the world. Crafted by Sister Joan Chittister, it petitions our Father in this way:
Great God, who has told us “Vengeance is Mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.
Save us from the desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.
Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again to make peace even when peace eludes us.
We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.
We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples of
Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel (we can add U.S. inner cities, minorities, the person next door)
as well as for ourselves.
Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptation of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
that vengeance begets violence
and to bring peace–not war–everywhere we go.
For you, O God, have been merciful to us.
For you, O God, have been patient with us.
For you, O God, have been gracious to us.
And so may we be merciful,
with these whom you also love.
This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen.
These are powerful words.
I need to hear myself pray these words.
As C.S. Lewis would say, prayer doesn’t change God. Prayer changes me.