But I Don’t Know HOW to Pray!

FB_IMG_1508793738386
My confirmation students pause to say a prayer at our Nation’s Capital

I have the privilege of teaching and learning with an incredible group of teenagers who are taking part in our confirmation class this year. Some have been coming to church almost weekly since they were infants, others have only been in worship one or two times. Some seem to be fairly confident in their current place in their faith journey while others still aren’t quite sure what “faith journey” means. It is truly an incredible group of young people!

Each week, my students are expected to write in a prayer journal a minimum of three times. We have had a conversation about different ways to pray and the many different forms this journal can take. A few weeks into class, after they had time to begin the journal, I asked one of my students to pray out loud. They quietly responded “but I don’t know how to pray.”

How many of us feel that way? We are fine on our own as we pray silently or in a journal, but when it comes time to pray in front of others it is as if we have no idea what to do. I remember feeling that way several years ago. I remember being frustrated that the prayer before our Thanksgiving dinner was handed to me once I started seminary because, as one relative said, “You know how to pray now!” I was terrified and frustrated, I feared that I would say something wrong or stumble over my words. What if my prayer wasn’t as eloquent as my Grandfather’s prayer was each year?

As my student sat there with a terrified look on their face, I encouraged them to repeat after me as I followed a model of teachers I had a young child. “Dear God, thank you for being with us in Scripture. Please be with us in the rest of class. Amen.” Simple, anything but eloquent, and honest.

Since that morning, I have been wondering the best way to help my students feel comfortable with their prayers – however short or long, simple or eloquent they might be. While on a trip to Washington D.C. this past weekend, I had each student pray for a variety things. They prayed before meals, they prayed before travel, they even prayed at a variety of sites (including at our Capital building and the White House) and for a variety of people ranging from those experiencing homelessness to our government leaders. Some struggled, asking how they can pray for someone they don’t agree with or understand. Some excitedly raised their hands to pray for things they were finding an understanding for.

As I reflect on the prayers I have heard all weekend and the prayers that I imagine were said silently, I wonder how we can encourage our parishioners to continue to pray? How can we encourage them to pray if they “don’t know how”? How can we help them pray when they don’t want to, because they disagree or do not understand? A confirmation class provides a beautiful and sensible situation to learn to pray, however not everyone is in a class which caters to this type of thing.

I encourage each of you to take a moment with those you are with during meetings, in worship, or even in the car and encourage someone to say a prayer. Maybe the prayer will be an echo prayer as someone prays out loud for the first time or maybe just a simple, “Lord, be with them.” Maybe the prayers will be eloquent or lengthy.

I am a firm believer that communal, audible prayer offers something unlike anything else. To hear another person’s plea and to add our own voices brings us together in unity of the Spirit, in a way that nothing can break. As I tell my kids each time I see or hear hesitation, “No prayer is wrong, just say what is on your heart.”

In a time of division and frustration, I pray through shouts on the mountaintop that we might one day join all of our voices in a prayer heard around the world and that can easily begin with a simple, “Thank you, God”.

How do you teach and encourage your congregation to pray?
How do you empower individuals to pray on behalf of the community?

 

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Finding Our Genuine Voice

GenuineI recently helped lead a series of discussions as members of my presbytery gathered to read the book “Waking up White” (Debby Irving). I by no means felt qualified to lead these discussions on my own and am eternally grateful for those who walked this path with me. I feared how I would be received as a leader of these discussions as we discussed our presbyteries current and hoped for response to racial inequalities in our area. As discussions progressed, I began to notice that I was not alone in my self-conscious fear. I did my best to make the space safe to share stories and prayers, however I know that did not always succeed and I struggled a great deal with that.

As I continue to think about these discussions and many others, I begin to wonder what has happened in our society? It seems there is a widespread fear, or at least hesitance, to speak what we believe to be our real truth. We live in a world of constant likes and dislikes as we receive the immediate critiques of almost every person we encounter. We sit wondering what certain individuals might say or do in response to what we say and do. Our genuine selves are buried as we both amp up and tone down our responses based on our desired and feared responses from others.

I have struggled with this in my own life as I discern the best way to respond to events in our world and in my community. Should I write a Facebook post, or not post at all? Should I address it directly or indirectly in my lessons and sermons? Should I say anything at all or just keep quiet and listen? Surrounded by many loved ones and friends who I both agree and disagree with, I know that my choice or response is typically based on who I know will or will not see or hear my response.

As I think about my own life and as I read the varied responses that fill my social media feeds by colleagues in ministry, I am left with one very simple and very complicated question –

Are we, as congregational leaders, being our genuine selves and modeling that for our parishioners?

Do we allow our context to control our words, or do we allow the Spirit to guide our words?

Do we open space for others to be genuine, or do we close doors to protect each person’s ego?

What I fear today, almost more than anything else, is that our loss of genuine conversation and compassion for others as they show their own genuine selves, is building more walls than any person or group in the world can begin to propose. The façade that is created when we both amp up our response to grab the attention of others and when we silence ourselves out of fear of others just might be one of the most dangerous things of all.

If I have learned anything in ministry is that we are each seeking permission to be genuine – we are seeking affirmation that our uniquely imperfect selves truly are created in God’s beautiful image; we are seeking affirmation that our shaking voice is valued in the choruses of both praise and lament hear around the world. As a leader, I sought permission to share my story, the good and the bad, and I sought forgiveness as I mis-stepped along the way.

And so here is your permission. I urge and implore each of you, congregational leaders and lay-people alike, church-goers and church avoiders – lift up your beautifully unique and genuine voice and don’t forget to listen to those around you. Hear God’s love and grace lifted up as it drowns out the hatred and tears down the walls. Speak up and speak out in a way that grants permission for others to join the song that so desperately needs to be heard around the world, made beautiful by both the harmony and the dissonance. Speak in a way that offers forgiveness and grace as others find their own genuine voice.

Our voice doesn’t have to be the loudest, it doesn’t have to be silent; our words don’t have to be completely accurate, they don’t have to be eloquent. Our voices do need to be genuine though, filled with the unique imperfection that God has so beautifully woven in and through each and every one of us.

Do not amp up, do not tone down. Do not bury or push to the front. Instead speak the genuine, seek the genuine, hear the genuine, BE GENUINE.  It is through our genuine selves that God’s grace and love will continue to pour out and reach corner of creation.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)