It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
-Mary Oliver, “Praying”
Friends, here is some good news: if all goes well with my classes, I will graduate from seminary in December. After four years of theological education and biblical scholarship, I feel confident telling you this, I am not an expert in my vocation. The truth is, I never will be. When it comes to the business of caring for people, one must be prepared to be a novice indefinitely. If the resurrection teaches us anything, it is that loving people is always its own beginning.
As someone going into ministry, one thing I am asked to do quite frequently is pray. It might be assumed that prayer comes naturally to me. Honestly, it doesn’t, at least not in the way I grew up understanding prayer. The truth is, I pray all the time, but with very little poise or eloquence. It typically goes something like this, “Dear God, I have no idea what I’m doing.” This prayer always works because in it lies the reality of my human fallibility, and the divine response is always, “I know you don’t. I made you. Why don’t we just sit together for a while?”
When I am tasked with praying for others, I spend more time than I should flipping through the rolodex in my brain of proper pastoral guidance. It doesn’t take long before I realize the rolodex is blank. Prayer can’t be cataloged any more than God can be confined to the pages of scripture. Prayer is not a matter of having the right words, it is the act of paying attention, as Mary Oliver writes, so that another voice may speak.
During youth gatherings, we typically offer an invitation for anyone in the youth group to pray if they would like. They usually all point at each other, and then Dan or myself offer a prayer. I get it. I want to tell them that I don’t have the words either. And neither are they required to know the right thing to say. So recently I tried something different. I asked if anyone would like to pray, and I told them that they didn’t have to say anything. Instead, they could just invite us into a space where we can just be together in silence, because in that silence, so much can be heard.
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris… this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.