Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Prayer and Doubt (#wholemama)

For a few months, we sang the Doxology before every meal. My toddler called it the "Ghost Song." This is likely partly due to ghost being the only word he recognized, and partly due to his obsession with all things Halloween.

Before that we went through a few weeks of "God Our Father," after he learned it at a friend's house. Before that we began our meals with a deep sigh and the awareness of something missing. The latter is what we have mostly returned to these days, along with the occasional "Thankyougodforthisfood. Amen." 

Growing up, our meal prayers came from several different Christian traditions. As kids we sang "Thank you God for this food" and then proceeded to thank God for every object we could identify on the table, including silverware and napkins and juice. As we got older my mom mostly prayed in the evangelical style, letting the words flow out as they came to her. Some days, if we misbehaved, my father would make one of us kids pray. Most often we chose the easy Lutheran prayer we had inherited from my dad's German family: "Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed." At my Italian Catholic grandmother's house we heard "Bless us Oh Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ Our Lord Amen," followed by the sign of the cross. 

But none of these, neither the songs nor the liturgy, neither silence nor filling it with words, feel right for our family and the stage of faith we find ourselves in, somewhere on the edge of Christianity. I struggle with the inherently male language for God, as well as the theological implications of thanking God for feeding us while others go hungry, not to mention the fact that most days I just. don't. know. if I believe all this Christianity stuff. 

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God knows the last time I prayed in the way that used to come easy to me, an ongoing conversation with God during the big and little moments of each day. That style of prayer became all but impossible for me years ago. Nonetheless, little mercies have sustained what remains of my prayer life.

A big part of this has been the idea of fingertip prayer, which Margaret Silf calls "small signals of need expressing our desire to become aware of God's constant presence." In fingertip prayer, no words are needed, my aching desires themselves are the prayer. And I need only to ache in God's direction, as if my fingers were stretched out in desire, to see them as such.

In the past year or so, I have begun writing some of my fingertip prayers on small scraps of paper. These papers, of one or two words, I then drop into a small ceramic cup that I keep on my desk, along with other items that are sacred to me. This practice is especially helpful for when I don't even know what I would pray for in a situation, assuming I could. It feels like dropping my troubles into God's small, cupped hands.


There are also countless other activities in my life that I choose to see as prayer: lighting a candle, loving my babies, practicing yoga, scrawling in my journal, taking in nature.

Lately, I even find myself drawn to the sign of the cross. The idea of letting my body say what my mind cannot has great appeal to me in this season. 

***
I have found great comfort in these practices over the past few years, but they don't answer the question that echoes in my mind each day when our family sits down for dinner. At meal time, I still yearn for an expression of gratitude, for some sort of regular prayer practice for our family. I can't bring myself to fully embrace any of the traditional songs or prayers I have come across, but neither am I satisfied with merely a vague notion of thanks, devoid of religious tradition. 

So where does this leave us now? I have no answers, only, as ever, a sacred ache in God's direction.

Whole Mama

14 comments :

  1. Oh, Alissa, I am sure God hears those "sacred aches" just as well as when we use words. I love your practice of putting your fingertip prayers on paper scraps into a cup. That is such a great illustration of what a prayer can be. I think even our doubts can be prayers, esp. if we are searching for answers. God is big enough to handle all of our doubts and fears. I pray that you will find just the right thing for your mealtime prayers. Hugs and blessings to you!

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    1. Thank you Gayl. And I think you're right, that doubts can be a kind of prayer too. I really appreciate the encouragement. <3

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  2. My family doesn't have much spoken prayer, either. No ritual prayers, really, at all, though I pray out loud with kids (when they want me to) at bedtime. I also practice the "I'm yearning for you, God" kind of prayer, believing that even if we don't believe in God, God still believes in us. So glad you wrote with us this week!!

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    1. Wow! Good to hear I'm not the only one. Thanks for making space (especially for a doubter like me). <3

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  3. Oh yes, the sacred ache, I've felt it often. Here's to giving it voice the best way we can.

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    1. Thanks Lindsey. So good to know I'm not alone.

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  4. I've said all those prayers over my life, too, and asked those questions. I believe every word you drop into God's hands is cherished.

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    1. Thank you so much Amanda. That's really encouraging. <3

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  5. I'm a doubter, faith-shifter, so familiar with that ache. I never thought of it as being a sacred ache, but I resonate with your description. Thank you for making space for that. <3

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    1. Thanks for making space for me, Jamie. :)

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  6. Alissa I identify with so much of this - when you write about aching in God's direction - that is such a perfect articulation of what I feel so much of my prayer life is. and this 'when I don't even know what I would pray for in a situation, assuming I could' - I'm familiar with that too. I don't think you need to think of your praying as inadequate or missing the mark in any way at all. I don't think there's a 'right' way that we are supposed to communicate with God. Aching in his direction, loving our children and taking in nature are wonderful channels of openness. so much love to you

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    1. Thank you! That's so encouraging! <3

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  7. "Letting my body say what my mind cannot."

    Wow. Somehow there is so much power here. And truth and redemption for our own humanity that we don't even understand.

    Thank you for so much honesty and your words here.

    We prayed the lutheran prayer and the "bless us oh lord" prayer as well. And wee have no tradition yet in our little house. We'll see where we get

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    1. Thanks for reading. It's encouraging to hear that maybe not as many people are as perfect at family prayers as I thought. ;)

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