Over the course of our lives, we likely offer many prayers in a variety of ways. Some are formal, memorized prayers said for specific occasions. A family table grace recited before meals. The comforting words of Psalm 23. The Lord’s Prayer spoken as one body during worship.
Author Anne Lamott categorizes “essential” prayers into three areas in her book Help, Thanks, Wow. Lamott says that we seek God’s intervention and assistance in our lives by praying, “Help!” We pour out our gratitude with the words, “Thank you!” We express our awe and wonder with a simple, heartfelt “Wow!” My prayers often fall into one of those three types.
There are many different ways to pray as well. I have sought and practised a variety of prayer forms. Walking prayers. Breath prayers. Nature prayers. Visually focused prayers. Centring prayers. Kneeling prayers.
Catholic theologian Richard Rohr speaks of prayer as moving us from “being fear-driven to love-drawn” (Online Dec. 12, 2018 devotional). Often my prayers trace this movement, asking God to free me from fear and giving thanks for and being awed by the love that draws me to God.
More recently, I found myself without a specific prayer discipline. After reading Scripture, I had no response other than to sit wordlessly. I was somewhat surprised by this development. It was as if I was “on pause,” waiting for some unformed outcome or direction. Wise spiritual guides have counselled me at such times to simply wait, to accept what is, and to trust God is at work even when we are unable to see such activity. I showed up; I read Scripture; I waited.
Each day I call my mother. Over time, I came to see that my prayer practice was found in the daily phone calls. For the last year-and-a-half, my mother has been a reluctant resident of a nursing home. She had dearly hoped to continue living independently in her cozy country home, but health difficulties precipitated a move to nursing care. The crisis of one family member affects all the others in the family, and such was the case for me.
Since we live far from each other, it is not possible to be physically present. The daily phone calls are a way for me to connect, to share in the challenges and blessings she is experiencing. Our conversations become prayers for me, carrying to God what is said as well as what lies beneath the words. Prayers expressing a need for help, of thanks and of awe weave through these times.
Sometimes my mother is troubled, and we ask God to come to her aid. We pray together with words, that she would find peace and healing, that she would be comforted in her losses, that she would know her precious worth as God’s beloved child.
Sometimes, as I listen to my mother’s report of the day, I give thanks. That I can continue to hear her musical voice. That she is safe and well cared for. That she and her friends support each other. That her lively spirit is undiminished as she jokes with the staff, celebrates a family gathering and prepares gifts for loved ones.
Sometimes, when the Spirit is most visible, I breathe, “Wow!” I hear her delight in creating: knitting, watering plants and treasuring their blooms, decorating her room in seasonal colours. I see her resilience in adapting to the dementia that muddles her thinking. And when she voices her sustaining Christian faith, I feel like both of us are wrapped in the Spirit’s wings. God is at work in our many ways of praying.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.