Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Pray (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. After all, I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish good words. I'd like to start sharing some of them with you on this blog.

Word for Today: Pray.

Today? Today the word is one syllable and one syllable only. Today is the syllable that I cling to when I can't sound out anything sophisticated.

When I don't know the soteriology. When I don't know what difference the word "propitiation" means. When I want a word for what feels small and timid.

Definition: Pray, I'm told by the dictionary, is to address God with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving.  We need words that talk about our needs, our gratitudes, and that silence, that silence when we've started, Heavenly Father... and we can't get any further. Prayer is silence too.

Pray, verb. To lie in your bed as your eyelids droop and remember in a flash of horror that you never said "thank you" to Him who gave you breath this morning. That you forgot to lift your hands, even one little bit, in gratitude for the note your friend sent you in the mail, or the exciting news of acceptance to a scholarship program, or the anticipation of spring. You lie there, whisper, Lord, I forgot to say thank you. Covers draped over your tired frame, you sigh heavy and to the darkness of the ceiling, you say the most powerful words: Forgive me, Father. Pray means beg mercy, means knees-on-concrete mercy, means manna-from-heaven-daily-bread mercy.

Pray, verb. To sing. To warble loud and rickety through the day a song of ascents, a song of praise, a song that is always just in its first verse, a song that composes itself. You sing it loud when you can, and sometimes when you have to, you sing softly, you sing to cling to something small and flaming and alive. For life flames with God, and to pray is to sing of the fire.

Pray, verb. To live palms up. To hold the ones you love in the palm of your small sweaty hands and lift them back to the One who made them and say, Lord, be with this person. It is the audacity to ask for what He is already doing, to ask Him to go where He already lives, to ask Him to provide for the ones we love what we must trust Him to be already providing. We ask palms up, offer our beloved back to Love. It is hard to give them back, but we live palms raised to the sky and our hearts lifted up unto the Lord.

Pray, verb. The silence when the world has stopped its spinning. The silence when the last word of a poem drops like a pin in the crowd and we all hear it. The intake of breath when we cannot bear to breathe. When we want, with W.H. Auden,  to stop all the clocks, and dismantle the sun. When we are utterly emptied of words. When we need to grasp our hands tight to each other, when we need to sit arms wrapped close around each other.

Pray is empty yourself for another, empty yourself before God so you can make silence for Him. Pray is make silence.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
 O Lord, hear my voice!
 Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
   O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
   and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord
   more than watchmen for the morning,
   more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
   For with the LORD there is
steadfast love,
   and with him is plentiful redemption.

And he will redeem Israel
   from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130)

Pray is a word for every moment. Pray is a word for this moment. Pray with me:

For the Answering of Prayer (The Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of
those who ask in thy Son's Name: We beseech thee mercifully
to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers and
supplications unto thee; and grant that those things which we
have faithfully asked according to thy will, may effectually be
obtained, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth
of thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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