Before we dive in, thanks for the book suggestions! I think we’ll read an Elizabeth Von Arnim novel in February. I’ve only read An Enchanted April and call it “my go-to happy novel.” So as I poked around for free books, I read reviews of her other books and it turns out writing happy books is kind of her thing. Then we’ll read a book Beth suggested in May when we finish Expectations and Burnout.
Alright clubbers, anyone misread this chapter title? I mean other than me? I got so excited when the chapter about God being present fell on the week of Christmas. And then I started reading in An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.
Oh, this is the Practice of Being Present to God. Not quite the same as practicing God being present to me.
This turned out to be my most marked up chapter so far. I love the language of viewing prayer as practicing being present to God. It breathed life into what can often feel like something we should be doing more of.
Pain and suffering struck a chord with us last week and we had a rich discussion. I wonder if the topic of prayer will result in shame and shoulds and result in some of us hiding behind the busyness of the week (a legitimate reason not to engage in book club) in order to avoid engaging a topic as wide, rich, and complex as the ocean. All this to say, no shame, no guilt, just an invitation to chat.
“I am a failure at prayer. When people ask me about my prayer life, I feel like a bulimic must feel when people ask about her favorite dish. My mind starts scrambling for ways to hide my problem.”
I LOVE this. Who among us hasn’t said to someone, “I’ll pray for you.” Knowing full well you wouldn’t and then felt guilty about it?
“To say I love God but I do not pray much is like saying I love life but I do not breathe much. The only way I have found to survive my shame is to come at the problem from both sides, expelling two distinct possibilities: 1) that prayer is more than my idea of prayer and 2) that some of what I actually do in my life may constitute genuine prayer.”
The word I can’t shake as I read this is “expansive.” Growing up, and I mean this as no slam to my childhood rearing but more as an observation, I picked up the idea that prayer involved words and bowing your head. I knew it could be silent or spoken out loud and corporate or individual.
What I missed was that reverent prayer, like this, was one form of prayer. Not the sum total of prayer. In adulthood I’ve been able to broaden my understanding and practice of prayer to be more in line with what Barbara describes. But I rarely speak of it because I might appear a bit too outside of the flock. And to show I’m a bit all over the board, I’m also more drawn to liturgy than ever before.
Once again, Barbara has offered us a variety of topics.
What did you think of her distinction between prayer and prayers?
Or when she tackled answered prayer this way: “The problem, I think, is that divine response to prayer is one of those beauties that remain in the eye of the beholder. What sounds like an answer to one person sounds like silence to another. What seems like a providentially big fish to someone registers as blind luck for someone else.”
These practices overlap like a glorious venn diagram. The practice of being present to God can be woven in with waking up to God, paying attention, wearing skin, walking on the earth, getting lost, encountering others, living with purpose, saying no, carrying water, and feeling pain.
My heart is for this discussion to breathe life into you and not heap shame or hiding. It’s important we create space to have these chats. How have you thought about prayer? What has helped you grow in this area? What holds you back or discourages you? What else did you highlight or underline in this chapter?
Grab a cup and let’s chat. I enjoy these talks, thanks for commenting :),
P.S. Next week we finish this book with an exploration of the Practice of Pronouncing Blessing
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