My Prayers Today


kathleen bertrand -my prayers today-2

I am not sure what I believe about prayer.

I understand expressing gratitude and joy. I can appreciate setting an intention to align myself with God’s heart before making a decision. I understand asking for help in immediate circumstances, like sending patience to me around 5:30pm on weekdays as I try to make dinner, keep a tired preschooler busy and supervise homework. But it gets trickier for me when I think about intercessory prayer. Especially about when I want to pray about much larger issues. Infertility, cancer treatments, Syria, South Sudan, the systemic racism I am starting to see everywhere around me. How do my words matter in these utterly overwhelming situations? God already knows everything so what is the point of my prayers? What kind of God would wait for the right number of people to ask with the right words before doing something? What does it mean when prayer fails? Can prayer fail? Are my prayers for me? For the person I am praying for? For God?

And so, as I wrestle with (and yes, pray about) these questions, my prayers have been changing.

I am working hard on sitting with pain and hurt rather than pushing or busying or even praying situations away. As I pray I try to give my feelings space and welcome them in with an accepting curiosity. I am learning to sit with my hands open before my Creator. And I mean this literally. I have started the practice of sitting with my hands cupped open in my lap. Sometimes I can almost feel the weight of my questions, my lament, my pain and my joys in my hands. This practice of just being with my prayers, mediating on feelings and situations as physical objects I can hold but not change, has brought healing to some tender places in my life. Today my prayers look like sitting in silence with my hands open in my lap.

As much as I try to concentrate on what is in my hands, more often than I’d like my prayers turn back into lists of wishes to a Genie in the Sky. It is then when I focus on my breath. Each inhale the cleansing breeze of the Spirit. Each exhale a further emptying of myself. Slowly, slowly as my exhales become deeper and deeper, I disconnect from my thoughts and my spirit settles into my body. Sometimes I focus on receiving God’s love on my in-breath and sending out love on my out-breath. Other times I focus on the sounds my breath makes. A friend shared that YHWH can be understood as the sound of breathing. I get chills when I focus on this transformation in my body. From the moment we are first earthside to the moment we move beyond, we are a constant embodiment of God’s very name. And sometimes, if I stay long enough with my breath, a new sensation emerges. I feel like I am spinning and spiraling upwards, faster and faster and I end my breath prayer feeling slightly dizzy. Today my prayers sound like breathing.

I almost always have at least one candle or stick of incense burning somewhere around me. They flicker away as promises of prayer to friends and family across the globe. Small lights lit as an act of solidarity with a deep pain or a secret longing or a whisper of hope. As I go about my day whenever I see the candles or smell the tendrils of incense, names and situations float into my mind and up to the One Who Is Always With Us. It does seem a bit audacious to me, this act–daring to believe that turning on an electric candle or burning a stick of incense can make any sort of difference. I still don’t know if I think it can. But for so many situations lighting a candle is all I can do. Today my prayers smell like candles and incense.

And when I don’t have the will to pray at all I turn to Common Prayer. As I read the words echoed all around the world by my brothers and sisters I am so relieved I don’t have to find the right thing to say. I feel connected by these strings of words to a lineage running backwards through time. Today my prayers sound like liturgy.

Murmurs of ancient lines. Small twinkles of light and tendrils of incense. Breath transforming my body into a holy vessel. Open hands in offering to God and in acceptance of what is being given to me. Faith that somehow it all matters. These are my prayers today.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. Romans 8:26 The Message

In Jesus’ name, Amen.