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Reflections on Prayer

sara.gladwin's picture

I have many different feelings about prayer.

On one level, it’s a representation of something I’ve stepped away from. For a little over a year, I was the youth representative on my Presbyterian Church’s session, which is the governing body of the church. It’s a lot like our government. Session meets regularly to discuss whatever current issues are brought before them. There are committees delegated to handle particular issues, and there are committees to delegate each committee. For the entire time I served on session, I did not speak a word. I showed up to meetings, I filled a chair, and I listened patiently to each debate. I watched friends become hostile and impatient with each other. Over the course of the time I was a session member, I watched several other members abruptly resign and leave the church. I was angered by the way money and finances seemed to poison the conversation. The contention that seemed to accompany each meeting, little by little, soured my relationship with the church and I chose not to participate.

Prayer had also always been accompanied by a sense of impatience. I remember many family dinners, waiting while my grandmother said grace fervently, eyes shut tight. I would look around the room, watching the bowed heads and closed eyes, all joined in holding hands. I was uncomfortable with the rehersal of it all. I never understood why we were meant to bow our head in prayer. I knew it had to do with humbleness, with submission. I always felt more called to look up, to see. I would have to struggle to keep my eyes closed. The words never made much sense to me either; I never felt a connection to them. I grew tired of asking God for things.

When I was much younger, my mom went out sailing by herself. She broke all of the rules she had mandated to me- she didn’t take a cellphone, she didn’t tell me where she was going or how long she would be gone, and she didn’t take a lifejacket. About three hours went by, and I began to get worried. Panicked, I tried calling my other family members to figure out what I should do. Finally, my grandmother picked up the phone and I hurriedly explained the situation. She told that we should pray, and that I should let God take care of my mother. It later turned out that my mom had been stuck, far away from shore because the wind had died. If I hadn’t continued to try and find help for my mom, no one would have found her. Prayer alone was never the answer for me and I equated it with complacency.

However, regarding prayer as a kind of mediation helped me see it differently. I still am not really that comfortable with prayer itself, but I like the idea of meditation, of communion with someone or something. I don’t know what I believe about God, but I believe in connection. I believe in feeling called, in feeling like I am connected to something larger. I appreciated the group silence, and the opportunity to listen to everyone else’s silence.