Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lent: 40 Days of Prayer

Turns out, all that NaNoWriMing and ScriptFrenzying and Thing-A-Daying kind of warped my brain... because a few Sundays ago when I saw the above written in the church bulletin, I thought, "Awesome! 40 prayers in 40 days! I can do that! I wonder if the website has a Twitter feed..."

Then I realized it was not another monthly challenge, it was just Lent.

But my brain started bouncing around... between my Thing-A-Day posts (yes, I was thinking about reproductive rights and abortion in church - egads!), about blogging, about praying...

I've had issues with prayer. How to do it. How it's "supposed" to be done.

When I was little, my mom would say the Our Father with us at night. We'd be sitting in bed, all bathed and brushed and ready for night-night; we'd make the sign of the cross, say the Our Father, and then ask God to take care of our families, to take care of the cats, and we'd thank Him for the good stuff we had. Then we'd say "Amen" and make the sign of the cross again.

So that was "praying," to me. You had to start by making the sign of the cross, as a greeting. Like writing "Dear So-and-so" when you wrote a letter. Then you had to say the prayer (and the long one, no quick and easy Hail Marys for us!), then you could ask for stuff and say thank-you for stuff, then you had to cross yourself again, to say goodbye. "Over and out," so to speak.

As we grew older Mom didn't come pray with us every night (there were four of us, after all, in three different badrooms), so I prayed by myself, but following the same pattern.

One day, in church, the priest talked about the three kinds of prayers. They were:
  • Kneeling on the floor, elbows on the bed. "God hears this kind of prayer. He can hear it loud and clear."
  • Sitting up in bed, with the covers up to your waist. "God kind of hears this prayer. Sometimes it's hard for him to hear it, though."
  • Tucked in under the covers, with the covers drawn up to your ears. "God doesn't hear this prayer. He can't hear it at all."
Let me tell you about my house.

We had no central heating. We had beautiful -- but cold, and hard -- hardwood floors. I'm very cold-blooded.

My house also contained an older brother, who was an avid Stephen King fan, and had seen each and every Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movie available, and felt the need to tell me all about these things.

I am a very naive and gullible child.

Guess which was my prayer?

Now, when I asked my mom about this sermon, she told me that was ridiculous. She told me God always hears your prayers, no matter where you are. "You could be sitting on the toilet praying, and God would hear you."

(By the way -- can you see why I still hold a grudge against the Catholic church?)

Still, those rules, or maybe even the fact that there were "rules," that there was a right way and a wrong way to pray, kind of stuck with me. When I'd get an email asking for prayers for someone, I'd tell myself to remember to include that person in my prayers that night. Which I would often forget to do. It was a huge step for me to pray at school, during the day: one day I got one of those emails, and I closed my eyes and said a little prayer right then and there, sitting in my classroom in front of my computer (the kids were at lunch). Without "opening comunications" by crossing myself first, and without doing my penance by reciting the entire Our Father before I could make my requests.

I'm not comfortable praying out loud (which is why I love one-word prayers, when we close Bible study or retreats or things of the sort). I have another lovely story about praying out loud (or, rather, not), but I'll save that rant for another time.

Back to my original story: my new prayer epiphany.

I write. I like writing. This is how I sort my thoughts out most of the time.

Lately, I have not been good about praying. (Some other time I'll tell you the prayer moth-balls story...) Most of the time, when I go to bed, I'm tired. Or I forget. Or (to tie this in with my previous posts), how can I pray when my husband is touching my leg under the covers? I'm ashamed to pray in the same place where I have dirty, impure sex. For whatever reason, I don't pray.

I tried praying in the morning, to start my day on a positive note, but that usually turned into me falling back asleep as soon as I closed my eyes to pray.

But I write. Why can't I write my prayers?

This is one of those that sounds so stupid when you say it out loud, because it's so simple... but it took me a while to A) figure it out, and B) accept it. Seriously, part of me wanted to talk to my pastor about it to see if writing my prayer still counts as "praying."

I write in this pink Hello Kitty notebook I had hidden in my nightstand, which served as a journal in my dating days (between marriages). Now it's my prayer journal. I write the date and start off with "Dear God," as if I were writing a letter. And I write "Amen" at the bottom, as if I were signing my name.

I like that time, in the mornings and at night, or whenever, when I sit down and write. And talk to God through my writing. The physical act of holding the pen and forming the letters helps me think about what I'm saying and helps my ADD brain focus on the task at hand (that also bugged me about when I prayed in my head, I'd have too many random thoughts whizzing by, which I found rather disrespectful to God).

Some of you are probably reading this with a big, DUH booming in the background. Yes, this is very obvious and I should have clued in to it sooner. A prayer journal is no new revelation, people have been doing this for years (I'd imagine). But it's a big deal to me, because I've had to break from these rigid -- and pointless -- rules my Catholic upbringing scarred into my brain. And it's hard to move past those ugly scabs. It may seem simple to you, but this is a huge step for the little girl who was told by the highest authority she knew in the church that the way she prayer made God angry because He found it "lazy," and that to make Him stop being angry with me, I had to kneel on the cold, hard floor, next to my bed, where the vampires and monsters were waiting to eat me.


  1. I have all sorts of issues about prayer too (why do we need to ask other people to pray for us? Is it a popularity contest? are we worried God won't hear our prayer, so we gotta get more people to pray for us just in case? Does the person with the most prayer win?) but in the end, I still every so often recite little prayers, and ALWAYS say a little prayer for safety when going on a trip anywhere (just like Mom always did). I find it comforting on a personal level, at the very least.

  2. I think writing your prayers down is a tremendous idea. And, like your mom, I think that sermon about the types of prayer is ridiculous. Pray when and how you truly feel it - that seems like the type of prayer that would be "easiest" (not that there's actually any difference) for God to hear.

    I used to pray at my piano, in the heavy silence just after I'd finished playing one piece and before moving onto another. I just always "felt" God's presence the most when hearing or playing music that moved me. Now I pray whenever the mood strikes me, and yes, a great deal of the time I'm in bed with my covers pulled up to my chin. :-)

  3. Isn't it funny how we realise when we're older that the monsters under the bed aren't the ones we have to worry about?

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  5. OK - seriously?

    Of all the posts, you pick the one about Lent and prayer to spam me?

    I could have sworn I had word verification on here - Blogger,what did you do?

    @Marcy: I hadn't thought about the "popularity contest" implied in asking others to pray for us. I hadn't carried the thought through to the other side; I just always thought that if you cared for that person you prayed for him/her, without wondering why one person's prayer wasn't "enough" (which is the way some people make it sound, when they ask for prayers and to pass along the prayer requests...)

    Interesting thought to ponder.

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  7. The closer I get to the "pray without ceasing," the better I feel. If you consider everything you think, say, feel, and do a prayer... it's amazing how it can change your life. I had never thought about it before until visiting a Benedictine gathering and the topic was discussed. The Trinity has been in constant conversation since the beginning of time. And it's a pretty powerful conversation when you think about it. It only too a word to create the universe. So imagine what an entire, endless conversation can do. When we pray, we're joining the ongoing conversation. Of course, conversation requires listening as well as talking. That's the hard part. But I find that that's getting easier and easier the more I spend time in Scripture and contemplative prayer. (The latter is a new addition... just getting my toes wet). Keeping a prayer journal is a good way to tap into that listening thing too. I think those of us who were raised Catholic do get some crazy ideas from the beginning... We think someone else has to compose or say our prayers. For heaven's sake.... it's a conversation, not a recital. I'm glad for many of the already-written prayers of articulate writers, but that's such a SMALL piece of the prayer pie.

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