Sunday Thoughts

by

by Al Sturgeon
(published every Sunday in Desperate Houseflies)

LET US PRAY

For those enamored with “feeling spiritual” in an elitist sort of way, I suppose my prayer life stinks. And since even I find the concept seductive all dressed up, I often share the same sentiment. But on a deeper level, I’m not completely convinced it is true.

John Wright Follett was a popular Pentecostal preacher in the thirties and forties. Late in life while visiting the Petersons, young Eugene bravely approached this religious star resting in a hammock to ask how he prayed. Follett exclaimed, “I haven’t prayed in forty years!” It bewildered the boy, but it made an impression. Eventually, he began to wonder if there were more to prayer than the typical religious picture.

I learned to pray as a child, and I learned well. I never caught on to morning prayers (or morning anything), but I made a point to pray a lengthy prayer each evening at bedtime. Of course, I also learned prayer to be a proper appetizer for meals as well as for anything that involved “church.” (Oddly, I would pray for safe travel for church trips, but going to school [or any non-church trips] seemed safe without an accompanying prayer.) All in all, the picture of prayer formed as a spiritual event confined to a certain time and place – something church-y.

This is something I don’t necessarily believe anymore.

Fast forward. A much older Eugene Peterson reflected on a life learning to pray and wrote, “Prayer is a life that you are immersed in… Prayer cannot be confined to a certain period of time. It is only nurtured in those disciplines, and we realize certain aspects of it during those times. At one point I realized that when I’m spending time in the external act of prayer – where someone could see through a knothole and say I was praying – I’m not really praying then; I’m just getting ready to pray. When I get up off my knees or out of my chair at eight o’clock, that’s when I start praying. That other time of saying my prayers is just the time I spend getting ready to pray. It’s getting rid of the distractions and making pre-decided things about the day that give me room so that I’m not swallowed up by everybody else’s agenda.”

In an impossible attempt at definition, I now see prayer at its core as a properly focused life. And when it gels in my mind, I see for the first time ever Jesus’s instructions on how to pray as more than a mystical mantra to repeat (like it seems many do), and more than a not-so-useful set of words (which is implied by my environment where the words are rarely mentioned).

A focused life:

I am not the ruler of the world. (Your name, not my name, is holy.)

There’s something more than what I see now. (May God’s will fully come to be.)

But today is what I have before me. (Give me bread for just today.)

I can’t forget my purpose in life today. (I’m to hand out the grace I’ve been given.)

There will be opposition. (Protect my focus.)

I repeat: I am not the ruler of the world. (You are the glorious, powerful King.)

Now, from time to time, I do my best to go through this in my mind. Then, I set out to live it. All of which is prayer to me.

Let us pray…

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