Historically, I am not much of a pray-er. The real word for “pray-er” is “supplicant” and I’m even less apt to be one of those.
I read Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, and I loved it. I love pretty much everything she writes. In fact, we’ve taken to calling her St. Anne at my house. Even so, while I could really get behind the “Wow” and the “Thanks,” the “Help” still made me itchy. I hate asking anyone for anything, especially if that person is on the phone, or say, invisible.
Maybe it has to do with the way prayers are spoken.
There’s the High Church kind of praying, like this one from the Episcopal Church:
Almighty and eternal God, ruler of all things in heaven and
earth: Mercifully accept the prayers of your people, and
strengthen us to do your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It’s lovely, but it sounds like something from The Wizard of Oz. When I say prayers like that (usually at weddings, mine for example) I’m always very aware of my diction. I feel like I’m taking a class in elocution.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Evangelical kind of praying. It’s difficult to find an example of this, since the whole point is that it is a personal appeal to God. No two will be just alike. Even so, this kind usually addresses God or Jesus repeatedly throughout the prayer, using different names each time. Dear God, Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, Father God, Dear Lord, as if maybe God is going to forget who you are talking to before you’re done. I always get distracted during this kind of prayer trying to figure out if any designations have been omitted.
So, even though I’m a wary Christian, I rarely pray.
My pastor lent me a book a couple years ago called In God’s Presence. It was written by Marjorie Suchocki, a process theologian. The book asserts, as does process theology in general, that our prayers help God manifest good in the world. That God actually needs us to pray in order to bring forth the Kingdom (read: justice, love, peace) on Earth. It’s as if God is the mother and we are the midwives. I’m not here to debate the validity of this argument. I can say that it was helpful to me. It made praying feel a little less like whining. It opened up the possibility that praying for people might actually be a useful thing to do, instead of just what we Southerners promise to do when things turn ugly.
I guess praying just makes me feel like a poser.
I’m surrounded by people who don’t seem to have any of these qualms. I live in Tennessee for one thing. And then, though I’m not currently homeschooling, I used to, and I still have a lot of friends in that community. Not every Tennessee homeschooler is religious, and not every gay man is a Democrat, but they are both relatively safe assumptions. In essence, I’m kind of a gnat in the cloud of witnesses. Thank God.
Last week, one of my dear friends sent out a message to a bunch of us homeschooling mamas. I can’t speak with authority, but I imagine that she sometimes feels like a gnat too. Still, she sent out a desperate plea for prayers, or good energy, or positive thought, or anything at all that might help her get through what she was getting ready to go through. She was hours away from appearing before a divorce court judge where she would have to plead her case in order to secure temporary child support, determine visitation, and decide the educational future of her five children. I’m not going to get into the details of her situation (not my story) or her husband (not my favorite) except to say that this is an incredible woman, an inspiring mother, caught in an unfair and frightening circumstance.
The response from the group was almost instantaneous. We encouraged, we commiserated, we prayed. In my case, this meant I cried.
I tried to pray. I called up both the High Church and the Evangelical prayers, but everything I said sounded so stupid and so inadequate, that mostly, I just wept.
“Please, please, please God please,” I cried from my knees on my kitchen floor. “Please, please, make it better,” with my arms pressed against the shower walls. “Please, please, help,” with my fingernails dug into the steering wheel on my way out of town. Every real prayer I tried to say sounded fraudulent and forced, but my tears were real.
Meanwhile, the real Christian mamas, “the professionals,” continued to message the group with perfect affirmations and beautiful Biblical bits. I wished I could send something better than, “I’m still crying for you.”
My phone dinged again. Another prayer. Another lifting up. This is what it said:
Oh. My. God.
Or rather, oh my Banana.
I had to pull over. I couldn’t stop laughing. Which was a welcome relief, because for over 24 hours I hadn’t been able to stop crying. And I wasn’t alone. Many, many messages followed.
A prayer saved the day. And it wasn’t a High Church prayer. And it wasn’t an Evangelical prayer. It was a prayer that called God “bananas.”
That prayer brought laughter to a dozen women who all desperately needed it, including one who was walking through the doors of a courtroom.The prayer originated from the Bible, yes, but it was modified, quite accidentally, by the hands of child. The prayer started out “perfect” and “holy” and became ridiculous and beautiful and sacred. So maybe God does need us lowly criers and phone hackers to bring about His kingdom. And if I can call God bananas, maybe I can be a pray-er, after all.