Prayer as Power Tool
I'm reading a history of The Book of Common Prayer because I wrote some prayers and I liked it. I wrote them and prayed them with the congregation for my church's kids' blessing time.
I had people tell me they liked them.
I'm reading this specific prayer history (The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography) because I grew up in a denomination without liturgical prayer. It saw prayer as all about personal expression to God. Perceived pressure to say something totally original every time I approach God.
I also come from a branch that stresses Biblical accuracy and not bending things to suit your own message. (Whether that goal's successfully met is another conversation).
I want to be responsible about these things. I'm still not sure how to wrangle these gifts--public speaking, writing, connecting ideas and sharing them. Especially in church. I want to know how other groups view prayer.
In this book of history, people use the prayer book as a tool of control. They grasp for political power. Leaders get executed in a bloody reformation. Debates about kneeling and ornate candlestick use turn into all-out attacks.
It's...oddly reassuring to me that things have been 'worse' in Christianity before. That people behaved badly and used religion as a political tool, but here we are, looking at the fights and saying "that was clearly not how this should be handled."
I see echoes now, people using the front of religion to get their own way.
How do you look your love--the human love--for power in the eye?
Exercises in purposeful humility?
Along with the power moves, there are ordinary people who carry lines of shared prayers throughout their lives. Words that comfort and hold fast in dark times.
I think of two Bible stories:
Use your gifts imperfectly. The use is what matters.
If all you ever did was sit and listen, it would be enough.
I ran into a fellow church member at a coffee shop, and he told his companion about how we co-teach kids church.
The new guy asked "Do you have a favorite Bible story to teach?"
It struck me as a funny question. My feelings on the story are one of the last things in mind as I teach. I cobbled together some answer about liking the curriculum and being more picky about the project suggestions (no I will not bring in a tub of water as an object lesson for 1st graders!)
See, my church teaches its teachers. Our goal isn't to hammer home one story. It is, in the words of my dear friend Cara, "to give kids a million yeses."
The particular story is a tiny part of teaching. It links together with all the other stories into the big story: the good news of Jesus. Our focus as teachers is to welcome kids, to be an adult who takes them seriously and loves them like Jesus, who is so glad to see them, who makes that clear. (Also, to make sure the rough-and-tumble kids don't squash the quiet ones.) A story rings hollow if there's no love in it.
The prayers I wrote for my church came out of that teaching how to teach. Not everyone takes a kids' volunteer shift, but we all take part in corporate worship.
It's a public declaration and reminder to those who haven't been specifically trained. It's saying "we value our kids and this is how."
It's being specific. These aren't hypothetical children. They're our giggly, running-in-circles, cookie-double-fisting, squeaky voiced, high energy kiddos.
The way I meet the kids is responsive. What are they bringing to the back classroom? Is the loud banter fun for everyone, or do we need to drop a level to help the quieter kid feel comfortable? Is it craft or game time?
There's something in this prayer-writing beyond just what I've been taught, though. On Easter, I didn't have anything prepped, but as the service continued in its celebration of resurrection, I jotted down some words. It was a moment of co-creation with God before sharing with my church.
I asked a question about how I'm supposed to act--pursuit of talent, or quiet and listening. I'm realizing that God is like a kids church teacher. Responsive to whatever I bring.
I could write a beautiful prayer.
I could whisper a half-sentence.
He loves me and he listens, either way.
He is so glad to see me.
I still don't know what kind of responsibility is wrapped up in leading corporate prayer, I'm still asking questions. But I am sitting with this for a while.