Prayer Changes Things
Beloved People of St. Martin’s,
The Rev. Becca Stevens is a person and a priest who inspires me. She is the founder of the original Magdalene House, now known as Thistle Farms, the name of the social enterprise she launched in order to further her ministry among women trying to escape life on the streets of Nashville. Her insistence on the healing power of love as a force that can change the world is reflected in her slogan of “Love Heals.”
Last week, I was reading her daily reflection and she was talking about our attitudes during good days and bad days, especially when they rub up against each other as they often do. I was struck by these two sentences: “The space between wandering and coming home is smaller than our fears lead us to believe. The difference between being a spectator and a participant is as small as a bended knee.” I read that, and thought, “Yes.”
As the great American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang, prayer changes things. Prayer takes us from being a spectator to a participant. Prayer is action, because the point of prayer is the movement of God toward us and the movement of us toward God—and yet prayer is an interior movement, seeking the heart of Christ that dwells within each of us. Even when we are broken-hearted, even when we are angry, our prayers are a way of opening ourselves to communion with the God who is our companion in both our joys and our struggles.
In the Episcopal Church, we emphasize that when we worship, at the root of all we do is prayer. Our liturgies are gathered in what is called the Book of Common Prayer for a reason: worship is prayer, and prayer is worship. And yet, so many times I have had people say that they do not know how to pray, or that they feel they don’t pray enough, or that they think they are praying “wrong.” Yet prayer is one of the most universal acts—every religious tradition includes some form of prayer, and scientists study the effect that prayer has on the brains of those who pray or meditate. Sister Mahalia was right.
One of the most wonderful gifts I ever received from my husband was a prie dieu, or prayer desk, that he personally made for me for my ordination to the priesthood. It’s made from the same wood as is used to make guitars. Every time I use it, my heart sings, for here is a tangible sign of the observation by St. Augustine: to sing once is to pray twice.
One of the things I most admire about St. Martin’s is that this is a praying community—there are, for instance, three different prayer lists, and three different kinds of Eucharistic prayer forms used in this parish. Last Sunday during the 9:00 Adult Christian Education program, we discussed various forms of prayer, and shared ways that prayer shapes our lives. It was a wonderful conversation. Some of you may know that I compose prayers, and I shared some of the prayers I have written, often in response to my praying of the daily office, which I post online at my blog, Abiding in Hope. I also collect spiritual writings and inspiration, such as psalms, poems, and songs, at this site: Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.
I look forward to learning more about your prayer lives and prayer challenges, as we continue to grow together prayerfully as an abundant community, upheld by grace, in the love and service of Jesus Christ, our Lord.