Making meaning of prayer


The Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christian community in Thessalonica the following words.

“We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure no one repays one evil with another. Always seek what is good for each other, and for all the people. Rejoice always and pray constantly and give thanks in all circumstances…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

We have a need to pray.  Paul says – “Pray constantly.” I tried to “pray constantly” and frankly it was daunting.   I thought my best praying happened on retreats or those days that I managed to spend hours praying, isolated with God reading singing and praying.  Today, I understand the reason why we pray differently.

How should we make meaning of prayer? I believe Jesus showed us by modeling for us our interconnectedness, as individuals in relationship with God, other and creation. We best understand the role prayer plays in a community of caring.  Not long ago I talked about Facebook as a community of caring where it has become common place to ask or to offer prayer.   I am convinced a face to face community of caring, a healthy church, allows people to engage in ways that Facebook falls short.  In the prayer Jesus taught us he says,” Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  When one thinks of heaven, one would describe it as a place where there is no more pain or tears, everyone knows love and peace and experiences a deep sense of belonging minus hunger, dis-ease, oppression and injustice.  To pray, we are inviting God’s will in heaven to become goodness experiences here on earth.  In its purest form, prayer opens our hearts to God’s eternal presence which interconnects all living things in a spirit of oneness.

John Shelby Spong’s 2001 book, A New Christianity for a New World he writes:

He said: “My actions, my engagement with people, the facing of concrete issues – these became for me the real time of prayer. Prayer came to be identified with my living, my loving, my being, my meeting, my confronting, my struggles for justice, my desire to be an agent of transformation…If prayer is the act of engaging God and if God is the source of life, then my prayer time became my time of engaging life.”

Now here is Spong’s definition of prayer which I now claim for myself.  “Prayer is the way I live, love, struggle and dare to be.” I would add, “We pray for ourselves and each other because of our deep sense of belonging to God and others beckons us.”

Prayer invites us to be awake and aware within and without. The act of prayer is how we become agents of transformation of life, love and being.  Spong says, “For the God I see in Jesus of Nazareth, is revealed in the personhood of everyone. This God is present in the love of everyone. This God is encountered in the being of everyone…This God calls me constantly to be the incarnation of God’s love. I do this…to free the life present in every person, to increase the love available to every person, and to celebrate the being of every person. It is in those actions that I discern the very presence of divine footprints and know that God has been in this place before me and sometimes because of me.”

Prayer then is much more asking and answers.  When we pray we engage in “LOVE” who is God! Rumi said, “We must get out of the circle of time into the circle of LOVE.”  Prayer does just that!  Out of love comes compassion, empathy, a need for justice and peace which opens doors for action. It is written in Scripture: “let us not love in words and speech but in deeds and truth. (1 john: 3:18) The truest form of prayer then is in our actions not just the words that we speak.   In many cases praying is the only way we can respond to life and being.  Prayer is our ability to respond which reveals itself as our “response-ability”.

We make our whole life a prayer when greeting the day awake and aware that “God has been in this place before me and sometimes because of me.” This new understanding allows us to be alert and responsive.  We matter in the big scheme of our interconnectedness with people moving through their day. Prayer allows us to engage in the chaos and creativity of life. Whether encountering  disease, oppression and injustice or the beauty found at the birth of a child, the blooming of a rose, a rainbow after a storm,  all things  help us experience life providing  opportunities to rejoice, pray and give thanks.


Phoenix-Rising-UCC-Open-and-Affirming_gratitudeGod’s greatest desire is for all to know their belovedness and to experience the unveiling of “ME”.   “The “me” you and I are meant to be”. Many go through life thinking if they do enough or are successful enough they will find happiness. Then there are others who go through life wanting and trying to be like someone else never unveiling their “ME” they were meant to be.   How does one know that they are the “ME” they are meant to be?   It begins with gratitude, the key virtue of self-discovery and happiness. For many it takes adversity to challenge us to ask the questions, “Who am I and why am I here?”  This shifting thought can lead us on a quest where we encounter and embrace gratitude.

The people I meet who are self-assured seem to embody gratitude.  Often in their life story they have faced adversity, trials and tribulations.  They will tell you it is in those places they encounter God and truths about themselves that transform them and how they see themselves and the world around them. For a season they suffered as the lens they looked through was distorted and splintered: they could only see what was missing, what was lacking, what seemed impossible.     The common thread that lifted them was gratitude.  Many express it, like the line in the song Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now am found, twas blind but now I see.” Gratitude allows us to become awake and aware of the abundant life that make us who we are.  Gratitude encourages us to witness the wonderful things within and without.  Gratitude opens our hearts to see the good when good is hard to find.   Gratitude invokes thankfulness and an appreciation for who we are and others. Gratitude is a wonderful stress manager and can counteract depression.   Gratitude feeds faith, hope and love.

I have had a lot of adversity and course corrections in my life where gratitude was hard to come by. Yet when I focused on what could be done instead of what could not be done gratitude was a key factor that lifted me above the circumstances. For instance, out of adversity and with gratitude I found God and discovered my gift of music and passion to be a minister.  When I think of all I am most grateful for, it is more about the people in my life than things. I am grateful for my wife who believed in me during those times I struggled to believe in myself. I am grateful for the children who know me as Mom.    I am grateful for my grandchildren because they help see the world through their eyes.  I am grateful for meeting new   people and the privilege of hearing their stories. I am grateful for people who do not allow injustice to go unnoticed.   I am grateful for people who can do things I am unable to do.  I am so grateful I can jump into a blues jam and we jell and make music as though we played together for years.   I am most of all grateful for Jesus who came and lived among us and gave people many  reasons to be grateful.

So what do you do if you feel you have nothing to be grateful for? How can you be grateful when you are overwhelmed with adversity?

I would encourage you to begin being grateful that you are you.   You are fearfully and wonderfully made by an Omnigender God who loves you, accepts you and calls you Beloved Child: the God of love light and grace, who created our macro and micro universe in all its spender, magnificence and beauty.   Let yourself be grateful that you are becoming the “ME” you are meant to be. Being grateful causes us to rise above our circumstances and allows us to plant seeds of hope.  When we begin to sow gratitude we will reap abundance.   Doing this regularly is like investing in your future, preparing for the storms of life. When struggles and adversity come you can draw on it, find rest, comfort and hope.    Therefore, gratitude must be practiced every day.  It will become part of who you are.  I am convinced when one is awake and aware of the blessings and gifts, goodness and graces that surround them they are better equipped to take care of all that is wrong act in just and loving ways.

This Thanksgiving and as we make our way through the Christmas season, I invite you to reflect on things that you are grateful for.  One of the most precious gifts you can give someone is to let them know how grateful you are that they are in your life.  Gratitude opens us up to creativity. So get creative. Whether writing a letter of making or finding that perfect something that describes your gratitude. Enjoy the feelings you experience as you are preparing a gift or writing the letter.  Who knows your gift of gratitude may become and open door of abundance for someone else.