Even before I started my God Project back in October, I found myself increasingly struggling to find words to say when I sit down to pray.
In a sense, the problem isn’t me; it’s God. When I pray to God, I’m not exactly sure what I’m praying to.
Am I just praying to the wall or some deep unconscious feature of my own psyche? Am I praying to an invisible human with a few superpowers? Am I praying to something impersonal? Or perhaps is God something completely different, something I haven’t even imagined yet. What kind of responses can I reasonably expect God to deliver? Can God break natural laws – or do anything all? How do I know if I’m praying to the right thing or in the right way?
I have an exceedingly hard time answering those simple questions, and that makes it hard for me to pray. The problem isn’t that I lack a God-concept; the problem is I have too many of them! I continue to explore different ways of thinking about God, and I’m not yet sure which of them (if any!) will stick. In the meantime, how can I pray to an unknown God?
After months and months of trial-and-error, I may have found a solution!
The Anglican Church has a giant book they call the “Book of Common Prayer” (BCP). Among many other things, this book provides a structure for short, daily prayer services which include multiple scripted prayers and meditations, lengthy scripture readings, and song-like praises. Lest it get too repetitive from day to day, most of the pieces are on a multi-year cycle; there is always something new in the roughly 30-45 minute routine.
This month, I found an app (available on Android and iTunes) that makes it easy to follow the daily service script, and I love it! In one sitting, I experience song, story, and reflection. The prayers situate me inside the stories of the Bible one minute, then contemplating the “needs of the world” the next. The words of the prayers are rich with imagery and poetry, laden with color and power. While my Reading List keeps me busy learning different ways to think about God, the language of the BCP helps me to engage God in daily experience.
The service calls for silence to be kept both near the very beginning and very end of the session. During the first of these, I practice 10 minutes of contemplative prayer to slow my internal chatter. During the last one, I sit peacefully for 5 minutes without saying or thinking any words in particular. I just turn my attention in the direction of God and sit, as if acknowledging my confusion and the inadequacy of my words. The BCP doesn’t mention either of these practices in particular, but I add them to balance words with silence.
How do you pray when you don’t know what to say? How do you engage God when you’re bogged down in big theological and philosophical questions? Through the rich language on the BCP and the silent practices I added, I’ve finally found an answer!
To learn more about my God Project, click here. To receive an email update with each new post (usually one or two per week), find “Follow Via Email” at the bottom of this page and enter your email address.