The Red Couch: An Altar in the World (Prayer: Then and Now)



The gift arrived on a Sunday morning.

My husband and I sat cozied together on an over-sized reading chair, one of those perfect pieces of furniture that makes you wonder whether it’s built for one or for two, the kind that requires a cup of tea no matter the visitor. Almost by accident, we found ourselves at House Church that morning, apart from the norm of Apostle’s Creed recitations and formalized Eucharist indulgences. I feel my heart beating wildly as I lean in to cushion and skin, my body sinking further and deeper into the man I hold hands with for life. Our four-week-old son nestles into his chest and I close my eyes, just for a moment.

I breathe in this perfection, our own corner but a small slice of the halcyon morning.

I smell the coffee wafting from paper cup in hands, its energy waking my newborn-weary body. I hear the hallowed words the voices sing in repetition, the simple eight-word chant growing in strength and belief with each growing verse: “Be still and know that I am God.”  It’s as if I can taste the Spirit. You are here. You are present. You are ours.

My senses are fully alive.

And in doing so, I am fully connected to the presence of God.

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, the reader is introduced to this very concept:

Prayer … is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing. When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing. God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst (178).

Could connection to The Holy actually be this simple?

* * *

I return to House Church, to the twenty-five people gathered haphazardly together on the main floor of Mark and Lisa’s San Francisco flat. As luck would have it, our discussion that morning centers on prayer, around that same notion of entering into God’s presence. We read John 17 and Luke 24, and gathering in clusters throughout the space, we begin to unpack our previous notions of prayer next to the morning’s texts.

A memory floods my mind: I am a sophomore in college, and I believe in a big, boisterous, Spirit-filled God. Hundreds of us gather this particular Monday night, spread throughout the room, standing and kneeling, swaying and bowing. We worship, loudly, and we raise our hands upwards, fingertips gasping for air.

When it comes time to pray, I know the drill. I know how it’s supposed to be done: You raise your voice and sometimes you shout. You prove you know your Bible by inserting God’s Word into your prayer, which is deemed a holy success by the sounds of your peers. Because when a prayer is really good, everyone cheers and claps, with shouts of yes and amen.

This is what I want—because isn’t this what God wants as well?

When prayer begins, I rack my brain for Scripture, begging neurons to work their collegiate magic, to say the most perfect of words aloud. I thumb through my bible, but the words are a blur, nothing sticks out to me. In the background, voices rise in fervor and the name of God is shouted, louder and louder. Will I join the parade of faithful prayer warriors? Will I make the cut?

With memory my only guide, I rule out praying John 3:16: That verse is such old news, I think to myself. I’ve got to find something better. A verse in Romans 12 I’d memorized weeks’ prior comes to mind, and I latch onto it, certain Paul’s words will carry my prayer to victory.  

When my time finally comes, a moment of silence beckons me permission to speak.

I address God: I call him Father. I probably pray a prayer for unity, for more on our campus to change their ways and come to know Him.  And then I transition into the verse, likely petitioning for “excitement for God!” within the student body. Because—and this my prayer’s climatic moment—we are to “Never be lacking in spiritual fervor, but keep our spiritual fervor, serving the Lord!”

Triumphant, I conclude my heaven-directed plea and I wait.

I wait for holy applause and I wait for affirmative utterances from those around me. I wait to hear that I’ve said the exact words God—and his followers—want to hear.

But the room remains silent.

I’m a failure at prayer, a “prayer-weakling” at best.

* * *

I stare at the wall before me, mouth mute to memory’s voice and to my own hauntings of prayer. Could connection with the Divine really be as easy as Taylor suggests?

As skewed my interpretations of prayer, I desire to awake to the presence of God. So, for now, I’ll take our author’s words to heart, believing perhaps that “…divine response to prayer is one of those beauties that remain in the eye of the beholder” (182)—and not in the ears of those around me.

Because maybe then I’ll again enter into a prayer of the body, one in which my entire self, my whole being, is entirely submerged and surrendered to Love.

At least that’s my prayer.


Come back Wednesday, October 29 for our An Altar in the World discussion post. For on-going discussion each month, join The Red Couch Facebook group.


What is your experience with prayer? How can you wake up to the presence of God?

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Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from Seattle, Washington. Her first book, The Color of Life: A White Woman’s Journey of Legacy, Love and Racial Justice releases with Zondervan in January 2019. She loves a mean bowl of chips and guac, long walks outside, and makes it her goal to dance in the living room every night.
Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith

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