ESR student Susan Flynn delivered the following message during ESR Worship on May 1, 2014:
My first exposure to prayer was when I was a little girl. At night my Dad would tell me stories he would make up. Sometimes I would tell him my own, (it was easier than searching for a book to read). After our stories were told, we would always recite the Lord’s prayer together before I fell asleep. I considered our prayer time sacred and special.
When I first got to Seminary and heard beautiful prayers spoken at meals, in our circles, and the spontaneous in-the-moment blessings, I decided I was way behind my colleagues in the prayer department. I determined the best course of action was to conduct an informal investigation of prayer and figure out where it fit in my life.
My 2003 bright red outdated Webster’s dictionary explains that to pray is “to implore, or ask for earnestly”. Unfortunately, there was no five-steps-to-prayer or an instructions manual tucked in the dictionary. My narrow definition of prayer was that I must be: kneeling with a bowed head, eyes closed, mind cleared, facial expression as close to angelic as possible, and hands gracefully clasping my official license-to-pray card, just in case I got questioned by the prayer patrol.
Richard Rohr tells me “God and truth never just fall into your lap, but are given as gifts only to those who want them” (Yes and….., 14). I have been set back by my perceptions of how prayer should go. In the Bible when God communicates, obviously with Her adoring humans, there is often a big show,- an awesome weather system, clouds, rainbows, creatures, doves and ravens, bringing good news or good food. After having read these clear instances of God communicating with people, complete with surround sound and weather systems, I confess I wished for ridiculously obvious communications from God, too.
“Hey Susan, you are on the right path.” “Are you sure you want to take your brother’s cookie?” “This too shall pass.”
Or when I say, “God I have no idea what to do here”, a booming genderless voice hollers “Take this exit! It’s the best choice.” As a brilliant light comes out of nowhere illuminating the most appropriate path for my journey. (Note obvious weather system.)
There have been many times when I have asked for answers. For hope. For clarity. For wisdom, and felt like I must have had a bad connection. Maybe I was out of range. Or fantastic weather shows were only reserved for the holiest of holy,- and certainly not my unsure self with a heart full of questions. Did I have the wrong number for God, or did I miss the memo on how to correctly communicate with the Divine? Does She screen her calls or text later if she is busy?
Before I gave into a terrible case of poor-me’s, feeling forgotten, I thought perhaps my investigation was too small and perhaps, I wasn’t asking the right questions. After meditating on the story of Pentecost and how people were speaking many different languages, (but could understand each other perfectly), I decided I had been too narrow-minded, to assume God would only communicate in one way.
So I thought - what is my first language? I tell friends that since I am neither proficient or sufficient in English, that it is my second language. They get all excited about the concept of my being bi-lingual and I get all embarrassed about not having mastered the only language I know. I stumble with words like a klutz in a china shop, and find I get frustrated when people use their words to speak over, exclude or diminish others. My first language, the one that comes most naturally, is one that is more non-verbal. It is the language of metaphor, intuition and mystery.
Pondering this thought I realized with great relief that God had been communicating with me the whole time. Only, in my first language. I had been under the false impression, She was leaving my calls unanswered.
When I pray, I often get answers in dreams, nature or from the people around me. Very often my answers are found like gifts in subtle places, throughout the day. Seeing a blue heron fly overhead, right at the moment when my hope was teetering, or hearing a song that carries a phrase I needed so very much to hear. Or observing the freedom of my 5-year-old niece flying around the living room singing “Let it go”, reminding me I need to stop being so serious. God has always been communicating. I was the one who was out of range, making it more complicated than it ever needed to be.
I’m grateful for my outdated dictionary because it asked me to think about what my definition of prayer was,- its limited definition a prelude to my own clarity. It is not just earnestly asking for, it is also deep acknowledgement of, the awesomeness that is around us. Gratitude is my favorite form of prayer.
Like noticing how the trees just sprouted blossoms and shade, around the circle that unites our school buildings. Or how the Irises stand tall with their lean green legs and purple crests buttressing the outside of Quigg Sanctuary in joyful solidarity.
Take a moment from our self- important places to look around, remember the wonder, take notice of the beauty and take part in the world.
As we move into a moment of silence I ask you to think about what prayer means to you. What language do you use to communicate with the Divine? Do you express your gratitude through prayer? Where are the places that you consider most sacred?