Excerpt from Chapter 1: Praying With Other People's Words

[I'm working on finishing up drafts for the chapters to Live Prayerfully: Three Time-Proven Ways Ordinary Lives Become Prayerful. The general of the aim of the book is to provide guidance on historic practices of prayer in simple ways. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter (Praying With Other People's Words), which discusses many of us already come to this kind of prayer with a bias for or against it.] If you were to walk through my church’s building about five minutes after the beginning of our worship services, on one end of the hallway you would hear a huge pipe organ booming as that part of our congregation sings a hymn that is likely to be three to five hundred years old or older. Other parts of their worship service will likely include things like the people up front being in robes, praying by saying aloud one of the responsive readings from one of the Psalms in the back of the hymnal, or banners hanging in the sanctuary that have to be certain colors at certain times of the year.

If you would normally prefer to worship at this end of the hallway, my hope is that this chapter will add depth of meaning to some things you likely do in worship already, and help you to see ways that we could become more prayerful people by carrying those practices into our the other parts of our days and weeks.

However, the worship service taking place at the other end of the hallway is very different. If you were to walk toward it, you would hear music equally booming, but this time coming from a drum set, guitars, and electric keyboards as that part of our congregation sings a song that is likely to be six months to a year old or newer. Other parts of their worship service will likely include thing like the people up front being in jeans, every prayer said being made up on the spot by the person saying it, and various multimedia images being projected on the majority of the wall space visible throughout the service.

If you would be more likely to find yourself in the drums and multimedia end of the hallway, thank you for at least reading to the fourth page of this chapter before skipping ahead in the book. Hang in there with me, because my experience is that you are likely to find at least as much depth of meaning in this way of praying as your friends down the hallway.

I mention this because I am well aware of the potential that some of you may already be turned off to this chapter just because of its title. If that is you, it’s okay that you feel that way, and there is likely some good reason that you do. I am more of a newcomer to intentionally using this kind of prayer than the others that we will explore in this book, so I think I understand your hesitations. Yet I include this way of praying, and I include it first, for some important reasons. First, I have found this way of praying to be very life-giving to me personally, and as I have taught this material to others in classes and retreats, this way of praying is the one where people most often describe a light bulb coming on inside of them. One woman stopped me after we opened a retreat by teaching on the topics in this chapter and said, “Even if we didn’t do anything else after that, I’m glad I came.”

(I wanted to stop the retreat right then, realizing the mistake I had made in setting people up for disappointment in the remainder of the things I had to say, but it all ended up okay.)

So, if you are one for whom the title, “Praying With Other People’s Words” fails to light a light bulb or anything else within you, remember the advice of Albert Haase’s spiritual director that we considered in the Introduction, “Find the way of praying that works for you,” the way of praying that helps you to be prayerful, and do so by trial and error. If praying with others’ words isn’t something that you think makes you tick, I am only asking you to hang in there with us through the end of the book and experiment with how each of these ways might help you become a more prayerful person.