As part of my course, I have been asking people about their experience of prayer and have been surprised at the variety of response. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised because there is no one right way. God has made each of us unique, the fun comes as we try to discover what works for us.
Does prayer come easily to you? Have you ever been climbing a sheer rock face, knowing that your climbing partner is relying on your skill to lead the way, knowing that if you fall off, whilst you might be safely dangling at the end of your rope, there is always the chance you might tumble to the ground? I was pleased to find that prayer came very easily to even the most agnostic of my interviewees given those circumstances.
Does prayer in church do it for you? Sadly it seems that my respondents didn’t really get a lot out of formal prayer in church, although in fairness one said it depended on her mood. Sometimes she wished people didn’t dawdle through the service, but she had her favourites who set the right pace for her. Another said that the formality was part of the problem, it didn’t leave enough space for him to reflect, he’s more of an ad lib man. Hum … there’s no pleasing everyone it seems.
However, they were all quite clear that other people are a great influence in their prayer lives, but even this isn’t as straightforward as I first thought. There was the influence of a kindly man giving a prayer poem to someone when she was seven. She told me that this prayer has stayed with her all her life. On the other hand, another told me about his experience of wondering why he had to go to Sunday School put his hands together and close his eyes and be told all about the missionaries in Africa. He was totally put off by these self-righteous folk when all he wanted to do was go out and play on a Sunday. Thank goodness things have changed in the sixty or so years since he went to Sunday School!
So what is prayer? One old lady told me that she doesn’t like to bother God after all this time when there are so many other more important things which need His attention. So she goes out into the garden and has a conversation with her husband who passed away over 30 years ago. Between them, they work things out as they always used to. I think that probably is prayer, or at least it is no less a prayer than the one the climber sends out into the abyss as he wonders how he’s going to get up the rock face.