There was some irony for me in this week’s reading. I would call it serendipity, but I would also call it providence. Let me explain.
I went to Rwanda in 2007 to do some research on a new ministry organization that I had helped develop. This trip became a turning point for me in my spiritual life – it was not a positive experience. In fact, this trip caused me to question many things about Christianity, about truth, about spirituality, and about my own faith. Although I had been disillusioned before, after having served in church ministry for 16 years, this particular experience was different. This was the deepest spiritual disillusionment I had ever had. It made me question everything I had ever believed in. The questions poured from my broken soul:
- How can Christians lie and not be held accountable for their dishonesty?
- Why is so much of Christian leadership filled with so much un-Christian behavior?
- Why do pastors so often “lord it over” their congregations?
- Why is Christianity so hierarchical?
- What is the purpose of short-term mission trips?
- Why are Christians afraid to be confronted?
- What is wrong with asking questions?
- What does it mean to be a Christian?
- What is the point of church?
- Whatever happened to common sense?
- Why are people who pray just as unspiritual and those who don’t?
But asking such questions got me into trouble, big trouble. As I brought up some of the issues with the leadership of the ministry I went to examine, I was told to mind my own business and to quit being judgmental. I was told to stay out of their ministry because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Ultimately, I was cut off from fellowship altogether. Suffice it to say, this was a painful time. The memories are still painful. But many of my questions are still there, unanswered. Oh God, Help!
So why share all of this here? After all, I am a D.Min student at George Fox University for goodness sake! And such students don’t have such problems.
Because of my experiences in Rwanda, my spiritual life changed. I have become a person who questions everything, but I am looking for truth in everything I question. I don’t fit into the “Christian box” where I once lived my life. I don’t read the Bible very much, and my prayer life has become more like Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. In her book, Lamott lets her readers into her own honest understanding of prayer. It is unorthodox and very helpful. The book even made it to Oprah! Since Rwanda, I have read quite a bit of Lamott’s work. It counters and balances out what I experienced in my almost 20 years of Christian ministry. I am thankful for this since it has helped me to not throw out the baby with the bath water. I heartily recommend Lamott’s work.
So, back to this past week…you can now see why I was a little reticent with this week’s reading. Frankly, I didn’t want more of the same. I didn’t want someone telling me how to pray. I was scared to open the book. But I was, overall, pleasantly surprised with the text, especially when I saw that Carol and Miriam were part of this endeavor.
In her book, MaryKate Morse gives us various glimpses of prayer from a Trinitarian Christian perspective. Morse discusses different facets of prayer that are related to the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Some of the specific topics she addresses include community prayer, work prayer, confession prayer, simplicity prayer, relinquishment prayer, conversational prayer, and prayer language. She then gives suggestions for utilizing these various kinds of prayer in a group, with a partner, and individually. Also, interspersed in her commentary are other’s comments on these various types of prayer. Finally, she concludes the book with a chapter called “Simply Pray on the Road of Life.” This chapter deals with prayerlessness and spiritual dryness, which really caught my attention. Morse says, “Most of us try to have a meaningful connection with God through prayer. But something happens along the way, and the life of prayer drifts into a dead zone of prayerlessness.” My ears really perked up by this time. She continues, “I want to suggest that prayerlessness doesn’t need to mean that we are stuck or that our spiritual lives are empty. Instead, prayerlessness can be a signal that it is time to begin an authentic adventure. And the journey begins with first naming one’s reality: Prayer is dry and empty for me.” Morse concludes her commentary by saying that such an experience is often interpreted by those in churches as shameful rather than as an opportunity for a spiritual adventure. I loved this. Spiritual shame never works. I should know; I have shamed and been shamed through the years. And shame does not produce good fruit. But God does not see things the same way as human do. He says come. He does not say that you are not worthy enough. He does not shame.
At the same time that we were starting MaryKate’s book, I was beginning a prayer meeting at the school where I work. Why? For several months, it was on my heart that I do this. I work at a small Christian college in Portland, OR, that has as part of its mission statement the following phrase “…a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts college…” What does it mean to be Christ-centered? At least for me, part of that means that we need to know Christ. But how? It needs to be more than just know “about” Him. How does one get to know another person? Certainly, it means that we spend time with someone. So, I decided to start a time for focused prayer for my school. I decided this weeks ago. But I didn’t begin until this week, the same week we were assigned a book on prayer. I would like to tell you about the meeting.
I made a decision not to advertise this meeting. Rather, I decided to choose one other person to meet with me. She is the most spiritual person in our office. Her name is Ricklyn, or “Ricki.” I asked Ricki back in the fall if she would be willing to pray with me for the school. This wonderful charismatic-Catholic grandmother was excited about this time and would be happy to join me. Thanks, God! Although we were going to begin in November, for many reasons it didn’t work out. Then came news of some lay offs at the college. Ricki’s job was cut. She was let go with eight other employees the first week of December. I was shocked. Why didn’t I start the prayer time earlier? Now what?
Over Christmas break, I got in touch with my prayer friend on Face Book. I discovered that her layoff, although a surprise, was a blessing of sorts. Ricki had been able to spend more time with her grandchildren now. Her attitude was amazing. Finally, I mustered up the courage to ask her if she would still like to pray together. To my surprise and great joy, she said she was very willing to join me. Wow! This dear lady, laid off by the school where she was both a student and an employee for years, was now willing to come and pray for them. And what a time of prayer we had! It was one of the best spiritual times I have had in the ten years I have worked at the college. And, this was the first overtly spiritual thing I have done since Rwanda.
I am grateful for God’s grace. Thanks!
I am humbled by God’s willingness to help my wounded soul. Help!
I am amazed by God’s loving kindness and second chances. Wow!
 You can read and listen to a brief interview with Anne Lamott here: http://www.npr.org/2012/11/19/164814269/anne-lamott-distills-prayer-into-help-thanks-wow.
 MaryKate Morse. A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk with God (Dowers, IL: IVP Books, 2013)
 Ibid., 243.