I grew up in a tradition of prayer, lots and lots of it I’d say, but most of it privately done. Even when we’d share prayer requests and pray for each other, these prayers were always specific requests for specific people. There wasn’t a lot of time spent confessing our sins–as a community–or offering thanksgiving–as a community–or whatever else. And we definitely didn’t read prayers out of a bulletin or a book or even off an overhead.
There’s a lot of ways to go about praying, and I’m not complaining about the way I grew up. In fact, I’m glad I’m comfortable voicing prayers on behalf of others, before a meal, or in Sunday school, for instance, when our “round robin” praying of the Psalms always manages to end on me and I have to offer a prayer to open the class. (This has happened frequently. I wish I could put my index finger on my nose–not it!–but it doesn’t work that way in grown-up classes, does it?)
But in my grown-up life, I’ve come to love community praying, and it’s one of the things that I miss when I attend churches in the free church tradition. For example, here are some excerpts from the Daily Office prayer service in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. These are all from the daily evening prayer, rite two service:
From the Confession of Sin
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves…
From the Phos Hilaron (O Gracious Light)
Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises…
From the Collect (Prayer) for Peace
Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgements, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.
Note all of the communal pronouns being thrown around here–we, us, our–and the way these prayers are crafted to make it impossible to step away from the responsibility and accountability inherent in offering communal prayers, but also the dependence we have on God and on each other. I wonder how prayers even offered within the average Protestant congregation would change if we took the time to pray together, the same words, really sharing the burden of our confession, sharing the task of our community, sharing the joy of our thanksgiving. Not just agreeing with someone in particular who happens to be praying, but voicing joint prayers, week after week, and absorbing them into our traditions.
The Benedictine Breviary (the prayer book of the Benedictines) does this same sort of thing, but even more so in its litanies, which are world-focused, rather than us-focused. But more on that during next week’s Sabbath meditation…
So what do you think?