When I Hated Prayer
Michael Hansen has complied an outstanding series on liturgy. I recommend that you read it. However, I plan to add a little more dirt in the discussion of the liturgy. My wife and I are new to weekly liturgical worship. We were both in favor of the format but had little experience with the cycle of liturgical life. We are now encroaching upon a full year of attendance and I wanted to highlight some things I have learned.
The first of these things was my utter disdain for the prayer time. Let me be the awful Christian but I just struggled with the prayers. I do not learn well while listening. I have a hard time focusing when I do not have a visual representation of the words in front of me. This haunted me throughout college. With regard to weekly service, this applies to more than prayer (I will also be writing about Scripture reading) but I was slow to recognize it in the prayer time.
Prayers seemed to drag. And these were just the small liturgical prayers surrounding confession, request for illumination, and the offering. Never mind the large, all-encompassing prayer directly proceeding the reciting of the Lord's Prayer. Talk about a snoozer.
Now all of this might surprise people. It might be additionally surprising to know that I'm currently in the process of writing a family devotion guide on the Lord's Prayer. So prayer is not something that is far from me. I have been a fan of reciting the Lord's Prayer for a long time. In the past, I have also dedicated significant time to reciting the Sinner Prayer with an Orthodox prayer rope in hand. So it should be confusing as to why I so disliked the public prayer time.
The truth is that I had somehow disconnected public prayer from personal prayer. When the elders stand up to pray on behalf of the congregation I had somehow lost sight that they were praying for me. And when I pray in private, I had lost sight that I was praying on behalf the church. As with many things it took the venerable Karl Barth to rock me out of my slothful slumber,
One cannot ask whether it is Christians who pray or the Church. There is no such alternative; for when Christians pray, it is the Church, and when the Church prays, it is Christians. There can be no opposition between these two. (Prayer)
To not pour myself into church prayer was to make void my personal prayer. To reject and relegate one is to relegate the other. To be bored with one is to be bored with the other. I was a walking contradiction on the issue of prayer. I had so drunk from the enlightenment's focus on individualism I had missed the point of prayer. The "we," "us," and "our" of the Lord's Prayer took on importance with a vengeance. I now see that there is no room for an individual recitation of Christ's prayer. Even when one says it alone one is saying it on behalf of the church. When other believers in Christ are emphasized the Lord's Prayer is being modeled. This is found in liturgical prayer. My involvement is to sit and listen to the "we," "us," and "our" of the local church and envision the prayers of the church catholic.
Needless to say, the portions of prayer in the weekly liturgy have become important. They have taken on a pronounced vigor. My faulty attention is driven hard. As I wrap up the first re-writes on the Lord's Prayer I continue to see my inefficiency in focusing on the communal aspects of Christ's instruction on prayer. But I'm getting closer. Each Sunday gets me closer. Through the liturgy, Christ and the Holy Spirit renew me to understand the body of Christ.