Cultivating the Art of Prayer

I have one of those minds which likes to jump all over the place. This makes many spiritual practices difficult for me. But I’ve recently discovered a practice that really clicks with the way I’m wired. I’m writing this post with the hope that perhaps it will spark or confirm an idea for some of you. This practice is based on a simple principle: the poetry of the Bible teaches us how we can talk to and about God.

I don’t think it’s an accident that a course on the Bible’s poetry came into my life at a time of intense inner confusion. I could endlessly explicate rational arguments about my situation, but my heart remained unaffected. I really needed to start letting the poetry of the Bible transform my prayer.

What does divinely inspired writing give us when it takes the form of people speaking to God–especially in the form of poetry? One answer that has helped me is this: prayer is an art which must be actively cultivated, and an art in which the poetry of the Bible gives us endless guidance and instruction.

Sometimes I sit alone in my dark apartment or I walk among the cotton fields off campus and read aloud or sing a psalm until the words seep into my veins. But other times I dive into the battlefield around my soul a different way. I write. I start with a poem or poems in scripture and look at the ways David or Mary or Habbakuk express their feelings, chose images, structure their prayers, search their own and others’ testimonies for food to nourish their trust of the Lord, allow their egos to be smashed by the great works of God in nature and history, etc., etc., etc.

And then, emulating these techniques, I write.

I come back to my writing after some time to compare it to the poem(s) that inspired it and to ask: What have I learned about the deficiencies in my own praying? In my heart?

Have you ever experienced a confusing situation that you felt like scripture didn’t give you specific enough guidance on? That has been these past two months for me. But allowing God’s Word to counsel me in this way has been so helpful. It has not always made me “feel better”, often showing me deep sins that I had been unaware of. But, as always, these discoveries have overwhelmed me with the love in Jesus’ gaze as He looks at me, and knows me, and still calls me to follow Him.

Part of a prayer I wrote recently:

Lord, how long must I gaze
into the dark swirling mist ahead
the thick glass in front of my face
through which each shape is rendered
unidentifiable
and with each hour of gazing, I am left only more troubled than before?
my eyes more stretched in pain
my brows so tight with focus
my lips pursed to the point of cracking

Lord, how long must I gaze
trying to make out the future before me
forgetting that You are the Author of all?

In my actions, I have been faithful.
I have been true with my words. but my heart….
nothing will do for my heart,
except that You set yourself as a seal upon it.
it is lost without Your brand burnt into its skin.
I have nothing without You living within me.

You are my Shepherd.
You lead me in the right pastures.
You make me eat the grass that brings life.
I know I can count on You to cure me from these longings for pastures that are not my own.
I know because I can feel the cries of my flesh under the branding iron as it brands me as one of Your own.

Today, the words echoing through my mind come from Psalm 2: “You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel”. “They” are the kings in the world who plot to break the bonds of the Lord’s covenant and cast them away. I meet “them” in the doubts that plague me at night. I hear their words sometimes slip into the speech of those around me, subtly prompting me to doubt the Lord’s power. But the words of Psalm 2, so much more cosmic than anything I could ever write, are there to hold my feeble loyalty fast where it belongs.

How has the poetry of the Bible ministered to you? Which passages of biblical poetry are particularly powerful to you right now? Have you ever emulated the biblical poets in your own writing and prayer? I’m excited to have everyone share their poetry at The Grove on Friday!
Photo Credit: Maëlle Caborderie via Compfight

4 Comments

  1. Kristi February 25, 2014

    Morrielle, thanks for this post.  Your psalm is beautiful!  Oh, yes I have done this. It is oh so helpful. At times my words get stuck in the emotions swirling around in my heart.  I have emulated poems from scripture before.  I have also likened many of the physical enemies the pslamists writes about to my own fear, doubt, worry, or confusion.

    Right now I’m drinking in Ps. 40 each morning.  Ps. 25 has been a deep fountain as well.

    1. Morielle February 26, 2014

      Psalm 25! I discvered the first half set to song a few months ago and have been singing it almost daily ever since. Love your choice of words: drinking from psalms. Never thought of it in those terms, but it is so true. I often come to them parched, and leave feeling refreshed. I am also so glad you mentioned Psalm 40. “For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.” and also all the other bits. Wow, I need to start drinking from this psalm regularly.

  2. Brittany March 4, 2014

    This is beautiful.  The Psalms do bring such refreshment to my soul!  I am not a writer.  I could write well in school and teachers always encouraged me to cultivate that gift…but to be honest, I don’t really like it.  Actually, that’s not true.  I like it, but I’m afraid.  I don’t know what to write, or how to write it, and I’m afraid it won’t be any good.  So I don’t.  I have enjoyed reading all the poetry this past week because it so beautifully expresses the same fears and feelings I am experiencing as well.  Thanks for this testimony, Morielle.  I think I am going to spend some time this week trying to emulate some of the Biblical poetry in my times with the Lord.

    I’ve been feasting on Psalm 37 lately.  Just before moving overseas 4 months ago, a sweet friend wrote out the first several verses for me in a card.  I read the card, enjoyed the sentiments, and put it aside.  Two months into our journey here, God put that card in front of my face during a struggle where I desperately needed those words.  I’m working on memorizing it right now.  The Spirit just keeps bringing me back to it, reminding me of His promises.  Reminding me of my role.  Pressing me to trust Him.  Oh yes, there is great relief, refreshment, restoration found in these songs.

    1. morielle March 4, 2014

      Phew, just read Psalm 37, and wow. What a psalm for those times when we look around and see good people being led astray and get so discouraged. That image of the wicked withering like the grass is going to stick with me. They will wither, but the Lord will protect and work for the good of the repentant. Love that line, “I was young but now I am old….” Love David. 🙂 I also avoided writing poetry for a long time because I didn’t much like most of what I wrote. But when I stopped thinking of my writing as poetry, and started thinking of it as prayer (for God’s ears alone and no one else’s!) I could never go back. There’s something about reaching for images and rhymes and choruses that really helps you to express yourself faithfully. I know each of us is different, and we’re all on an endless journey of finding ways to pray. I’ll be curious to hear what directions your journaling/psalm searching/psalm imitating takes you.

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