First Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin (where I no longer officially belong but will always, in some way, BELONG) once hired a youth minister who had a nose ring, so, I liked her immediately. Then also she has a son the same age as mine. And then she quoted Anne Lamott in a sermon and called her the writer of the fifth gospel. BOOM! That’s one of the ways I know I’m in the same tribe as someone—massive respect and affection for Anne Lamott.
I read her latest, Help, Thanks, Wow, on the iPad, with the Kindle app, and I liked the book a lot. (Also liked reading digitally–If my son hadn’t essentially taken over the iPad, I might be reading more books that way. )
I like her definition of prayer:
“It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding.”
I am charmed that this might annoy, unnerve, or offend any number of people I care about, who see prayer differently than I see it–all across the spectrum from pretty conservative-evangelical-fundamentalist Christians who’d be bothered not to see God in a definition of prayer (if they haven’t hidden me entirely on our social-media-in-common sites) to my atheist friends, who politely avert their eyes when I get going on the Jesus talk.
I particularly like this paragraph:
“Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy—all at the same time. It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being psychically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something. Or maybe miraculously, we just release our grip slightly.”
Oh, does that resonate with me–both the need to release my grip AND the way that prayer helps me do that.
Her categories of prayer are helpful, though of course she’s not the first to come up with these. There’s “help,” for which we have the formal name of “intercessory prayer.” And then “thanks,” which some would call “prayers of thanksgiving,” and then “wow,” which I would probably call praise, but seems to be the official category of “adoration.”
Or is it?
This article, “Prayer and Subjective Well-Being: An Examination of Six Different Types of Prayer” lists these: “adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, reception, and obligatory.”
Here’s how Whittington and Scher define prayers of adoration: “prayers focused on the worship of God, without any reference to circumstances, needs, or desires.” This is partly what Lamott means by “wow,” and it also coordinates with my new favorite song “Bring Your Praise,” by Trin-i-tee 5:7 (and if the fact that I love this song isn’t proof the Lord works in mysterious ways, well then….)
“If you want to see amazing, all you got to do is praise Him,” they sing. And also, “he can do anything, but he wants you to praise him.” (Which makes God sound a little needy and high-maintenance, frankly, which makes the Gnostic idea that Christianity’s creator-God has some issues. I always figure he was a second son, based on his dismissiveness about primogeniture in Genesis….)
Here’s the definition Whittington and Scher use for a prayer of “reception.” They quote another researcher, who says reception is “characterized by a contemplative attitude of openness, receptivity, and surrender, resulting in experiences ranging from peaceful/quiet to rapture/ecstasy.”
Sounds more like WOW, doesn’t it?
So I’ve been singing that song, “if you wanna see amazin’, all you gotta do is praise him” and essentially looking for wow.
I wrote one “help” prayer and posted it recently: “Prayer for a New Semester.” And of course there have already been school shootings, so immediately there’s the issue of “when God says no” and the question of whether my lack of faith is why my requests don’t get granted 100% of the time. (I found this sermon very comforting–I’ve long made the connection of “if faith is a gift, it’s not my fault I don’t have it.”)
I followed that up with a “thanks” prayer, “Grateful for my Crazy Life.”
Here are a couple of stabs at wow:
Stopping in Lone Rock
If I lived in L.A. traffic would drive me nuts,
And I don’t like Chicago’s bus-to-bus-to-el routes,
But yesterday’s commute sucked big-time, massive
Sucking—whereas usually my rural drive
Is lovely—how many eagles this week? A pileated?—
Yesterday it was snow-slick on the way in
And on the way home I nearly went snow-blind.
Today I worked from home, fever-breathing with a cold.
At one point I thought, “So this is zen driving” because
Really, I was guessing where the road was.
In the distance, there simply was no road in sight.
Up close, you could hazard a hypothesis.
I had to stop in Lone Rock to buy sunglasses—
My eyes were exhausted from staring at white on white on white.
All right, so it’s also a prayer of complaint (not a problem–there are whole Psalms that do that, right?), but the last six lines I was trying to convey the wow I felt, even though it wasn’t a very blissy wow.
I’m not such a fan of winter.
But I do use these cold days and nights (it’s supposed to get down to -11 tonight) to practice wow. One of the ways I do it is looking at frost on windows and seeing how many images are there that start with the letter “f.” Feather, flame, fire, fractal….By the time spring gets here, the list is usually pretty long. It’s not gratitude. Gratitude, from me, about winter–almost never going to happen. (MINUS ELEVEN.) But I can, occasionally, get to wow about it.