From the Rector’s Desk
This summer I had the opportunity to travel with ten of our youth and other adult leaders to Houston for a mission trip. I was so proud to see our youth work so hard for the people we served. They really did push themselves to step outside of their boxes, and it was exciting to watch them grow. Whether it was learning to use power tools when they helped with a house devastated by Hurricane Harvey, or serving food to people experiencing homelessness, they met the challenges set before them with a lot of grace and fortitude. They also treated all the people they worked among with respect and dignity.
Along with service work, our youth also had to do some challenging spiritual work. We took part in daily meditations each morning, praying together from the Book of Common Prayer, reading and reflecting on scripture, and sharing with one another (in sometimes personal ways) about our experiences on the trip. That kind of vulnerability can be challenging enough for adults, but these youth made themselves available and open to one another.
Perhaps their most daunting spiritual challenge was to pray aloud and extemporaneously throughout the week. On our first evening our hosts took us on a “prayer tour” of the city, and our young people were asked to pray in this way at each stop. That first night there was a lot of stumbling and bumbling, trying to find the words, trying to get over the sheer terror of being asked to pray aloud off of the tops of their heads. Again, I know few adult Episcopalians who would know exactly how to approach that kind of request. In that respect, they did fine even on that first night.
Over the next few days, however, we got to do some teaching about how to pray, aloud or not. Anytime you hear someone pray aloud and off the cuff, they’re always using some kind of prayer form to help them along. We offered them a simple form in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. “God, I thank you today . . . , God I ask you today . . . , in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.” If you think about it, most prayers follow a similar pattern. It gave me a lot of joy to hear our young people become more and more comfortable with this as the week went along. Some of them got quite good at it, in fact, and touched our hearts with their words.
I was grateful for the opportunity to work with them in learning to pray, but it also made me realize that this is something we, as the church, are not great at doing. In our tradition, we’re used to praying prayers that have been written for us. Some of those beautiful prayers are centuries old, have nourished many generations, and are always helpful to us in times when we ourselves cannot find the right words. Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, and he taught them the “Our Father.” We’ve learned that one well, but I think Jesus was doing more than teaching his disciples one set prayer to pray over and over. He was teaching them about the shape of prayer. The “Our Father” teaches us that our prayers are to address God personally, to offer praise, to ask for the things we need the most: bodily needs, forgiveness, freedom from many temptations, and deliverance from the worst this world can deal out.
What does prayer look like for you? Maybe reflecting on the shape of the “Our Father” can help you think about what you need to pray for more deeply. Maybe even the “God I thank you / God I ask you” form can be a way forward for you. I hope that you’ll take the example of our youth, and the teaching of our Savior, and learn to be more vulnerable and open with God in prayer, even if it’s when you’re alone. And if you ever need a little guidance, don’t hesitate to come see me or Mtr. Liz. We know how prayer can change people—we saw it this summer! We would be honored to help you find a way to deepen your experience of communicating with God.