Thursday, April 24, 2008

What an Idea!

Several years ago I was working on the staff of a week-long summer camp. One night, while the children were settling in under the watchful eyes of their counselors, the program staff—a mix of clergy and lay folks—were kibitzing in the staff cabin. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but it most likely had to do with the various and ever-present frustrations inherent in working with kids and faith.

It was late and the evening was coming to a close. Anxieties and frustrations were not going to be solved that night. Just then—out of the blue—one of the staff suggested something that sounded (quite frankly) weird: “Does anyone want to pray?”

Pray? The whole week-long program for the kids consisted of regular intervals for prayer (even a noble effort to instill in them an appreciation for the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer), but that was on the level of camp program. But prayer for us? Unplanned? Spontaneous? What an idea!

It was a valuable lesson for us all, especially for us adults who sometimes expect more from our children than we expect from ourselves. So pray we did (the night prayer called compline) and the evening ended with great peace, having given all our anxieties and frustrations into God’s care.

Does it ever occur to us to pray? I don’t mean at typical times, such as before meals or perhaps as part of a discipline of personal devotion, but right there in the middle of life with its joys and frustrations? In the life of the Church, prayer outside of worship is a matter of common practice, usually at the beginning and the end of a meeting or a bible study. But only once in my time here have I ever had someone suggest—in the heat of disagreement or conflict—“why don’t we pray?” Talk about radical!

Prayers rise up from our hearts quite spontaneously when we face grave danger or crisis, but perhaps less so when faced with the ordinary (and sometimes significant) confusion of life. In the course of our daily life we are bombarded with choices. What would happen if we took the time to sincerely ask, “Which way, Lord?” What would happen if we took the time to listen (in the quiet of our hearts) for the response?

Scripture encourages us over and over again to “pray without ceasing,” to “call upon God in every need,” to “cast all our anxiety on Him.” Notice the sense of the absolute in these verses: all the time; every need; all our anxiety. We, in our shortsightedness, can be pretty picky about what we bother to pray about.

What we need most is to let go of our fear and follow Jesus in the way of prayer. We need it in our homes and also in our church community. At Redeemer, the re:Imagine planning process has led us to a certain point, with a myriad of options and choices; now is the time of discernment. Which way, Lord? Have we taken upon ourselves an attitude and practice of prayer? Do we ask for direction, do we expect a response, and do we listen to hear it?

I am excited about all the possibilities that lie ahead for this congregation, but I am ever more in awe of our reliance on God’s grace to make possibilities realities. I am learning that there is a time for rolling up our sleeves, but not without significant time on our knees.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. –Philippians 4:6

+ tjk