| Anne Williamson |
Mine has been a checkered history with prayer. I imagine most of us would say the same. As my understandings of God changed, the ways I prayed made less and less sense. So I stopped praying those ways; I felt both relief and grief. I found my way to new forms of prayer – some did not call them prayers at all. I stopped caring what they called them.
But, lately, I have wanted to pray in old ways again. I find myself wanting to lament and petition and intercede and thank, as well as what I have learned to do so much better: listen, be silent and still, receptive. I am struggling with this a little (mostly, why these prayers again, when I don’t believe in a Super Being God on the other end) but only a little, for I think I understand why.
To engage with prayer as idol, as I used to, is to make it into an algorithm – that is, the “right” combination of words, location, posture, recipient, etc. that gets me, that gets us, that sacred object that we want – whether God, belonging, a person, a thing, whatever “It” is for me, for you. To engage with prayer as icon is to approach it as simply a tool for seeing and affirming the sacred dimension in all things. Iconic prayer is seeking the sacredness of life intentionally and (often, naturally) asking for it and showing we believe in it – by praying for others, for example. It’s our recognition that everyday we live in-between who we are and who we want to be, what we have and what we want – individually and communally. It’s an honest response to a human life.
So, I’m starting to think I want to cut myself a break – and that we should all cut ourselves a break – around understanding prayer or understanding why I’m drawn to it or why I need it. Or, why I resist it. When there is not a Super Being God at the other end of prayer, I think it is more like life - risky - and in order to move through it, like life, I have to be honest and receptive and hopeful, without any guarantees. Prayer is my dress rehearsal for risk.
Iconic prayer is not about fixing us or anyone or anything, but it is about connecting us, which perhaps is, in time, the key to fixing us or at least improving things.
Prayer for me is no longer about reaching out to an all-powerful God who I believe intervenes for me, for some, and (reality demands us to acknowledge) not for others. Rather, it’s about surrendering to life - which, for me, is infused with God; it’s where God moves and lives and has God’s being (for there is no other place that God could be for us humans). In prayer, I surrender to my deep lack of control over anything and yet my deep commitment to still claim its beauty, to still be in it and believe in it, to still fight for it to be better, and to know that I may fail and life may fail me. I surrender to this. I risk this. I find myself, peace, in the midst of this. And prayer (again and again and again) is where I remember to do so.