In my last post, I discussed some ways of jolting myself out of my functionally atheist rut—ways of remembering God in times and places that aren’t always conducive to doing so. In this post, I’d like to add another: praying through prayers written by other people.
There are several good reasons to use set prayers at least some of the time—not all of the time, of course; it is also important to be able to speak to God on our own. First, it is sometimes easy, when praying by ourselves, to get into a rut. We can too easily tread the same narrow track of things that are on our mind, and miss whole swaths of the world. Using written prayers reminds us of those things that we ought to pray for, but don’t. Second, written prayers remind us that we aren’t alone in our Christian life. It is so important to be reminded that other people have gone through the same struggles that we face, and found a way to find comfort in God through it all. Third, written prayers remind us that Christianity is not just part of twenty-first-century Western culture. Praying prayers written in the southern hemisphere, or in the eighth century, or both shows us ways of seeing God that are unfamiliar, but as valid as our own.
There are all sorts of places to find prayers to use—and I think that it is wonderful to use a variety of prayers, from all times and places, so that we can experience first hand the prayer cultures of Christians all over the world. The Psalms, of course, are the first and perhaps best collection of prayers. The Book of Common Prayer (in the Anglican tradition) has prayers not only for services but also for daily use at home. You can find the BCP online—I encourage you to look not just at the BCP from the US and UK, but also at that of African and Asian churches. All Anglicans use nearly the same format for their services, but each country has slightly different versions of their prayers. At my home church we have occasionally spent several weeks praying through the Nigerian service, or the Kenyan, and it is wonderful to see how different churches are able to pray to the same God in their own ways.
Then, of course, there is an overwhelming variety of prayers outside any prayer book. Many saints have prayers associated with them, from the Magnificat of Mary to St. Patrick’s Breastplate to the prayers of Mother Teresa. Hymn lyrics are also often wonderful prayers, as are poems—a particular favorite of mine is John Donne’s “Hymn to God the Father” as a prayer for forgiveness. Many older hymn lyrics are wonderful prayers of praise (to follow up on Jordan’s post). One that I would particularly suggest is “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven” because of the last verse:Angels, help us to adore him; Ye behold him face to face; Sun and moon, bow down before him, Dwellers all in time and space. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise with us the God of grace.
This is how we should pray at all times: knowing that vast companies of angels and archangels, saints who have died, Christians still living, and all the rest of creation is praying with us. Using prayers that are not our own can remind us of that, and draw us closer both to other worshippers throughout time and space and to the Lord God.