Let Us Pray... Anyway
I recently read a transcript of Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise interview with the extraordinary Elie Wiesel, republished on the occasion of Wiesel’s death earlier in July. Its timely title: “Evil, Forgiveness, and Prayer.” And in this dismal month, it is not a stretch to reach for knowledge from one who has experienced unimaginable physical, emotional and spiritual pain.
In his Holocaust memoir, Night, Wiesel recounts the moment that he lost his faith “forever.” We church people often maintain we never lose faith, that it is our life’s bedrock. I confess, however, that there have been times I have lost faith, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one. Perhaps you have yelled at God and kicked the door shut. Unimaginable awfulness happens—to ourselves, to our children or others we love, to the people or things that provide the known, secure parameters of our being. Or we encounter evil.
Elie Wiesel was asked what happened after he lost his faith.
“I went on praying.”
We have a deep hunger for connection with our God. The needful void created by loss of faith may feel like the need for oxygen when we’ve been underwater. And that first prayer, that first reach for God, is like a gasp when we come up for air. I painfully recall a time in my life when all I could do was curl up in a ball and whisper “please” over and over. That was my prayer for days. And in the space between those gasps, God filled in the details.
I am now a person who welcomes the opportunity to pray aloud with others, but the memory of the “please” prayers has made my personal prayer life less wordy. My special place is our quiet sunroom, watching the birds and the crazy squirrels, observing the rhythm of nature. I raise a thought, a question, a name, a thanks… and I listen for God to fill in the details.
On Sunday, we heard Luke’s gospel account of Jesus instructing the disciples how to pray what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Jim Quigley gave a great sermon on it, reminding us of the four important elements of that prayer. (If you didn’t hear it, they all start with F; work on it. And they can be part of any prayer.) But we often get so hung up on trying to find just the right prayer words, the prayer may never happen.
The very good news is that when we lose faith, our God does not lose faith in us. God is still waiting and watching for us at that door we slammed, still listening for us. I’m sure God loves a beautiful prayer and it’s a good and faithful discipline to craft one. But if we are just coming up for air, God knows the details.
God is already praying with us.