Amy Welborn has written an absolutely wonderful book about prayer, titled The Words We Pray. In it she recounts her early prayer experience, which, although she grew up Catholic, was not unlike my own. “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” guided our contemplation. If it was a really good prayer experience, we cried.
Most of all, we both were convinced “praying with words that someone else had written” was not worth our time. In her view, memorized prayers were for children — not for a spiritually mature person. Memorized prayers, from my separatist protestant perspective, were for Catholics and high-church folks who didn’t understand the Gospel and didn’t have anything to say from their own Christian experience.
Enter the Communion of Saints. How wrong both Ms. Welborn and I were! That’s why this post is titled “Community, Part 4.” Early in her book, she expresses the reality better than I could (p. xvii):
The words of our traditional prayers are also gifts from the past, connecting us to something very important: the entirety of the Body of Christ, as it was then, as it is now, and as it will be to come.
Early in my Catholic Christian days, I was faced with “saying grace” before a meal with others in my parish. “Bless us O Lord,” our priest began, followed by others joining him praying, “and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ Our Lord. Amen.” What? Wait. Stop! The blessing was over before I got started. And worse, where was the extemporaneous prayer asking God to bless the food, but also to bless those around the table, the work of the Gospel in the world, and all the other needs pressing upon our minds and hearts?
Was there to be no extemporaneous prayer? No. Not at that moment. Certainly no one there was unmindful of the other thanks and requests that might be included. But those assembled wanted to pray together. As Ms. Welborn writes later:
Life on earth is a reflection of God’s nature. He creates a world in which none of the parts work in isolation, in which loving community is the ground of being and action¹
— including prayer. This is very much in contrast to the ruggedly individualistic prayer that characterized so much of my protestant fundamentalist and evangelical years. And yet,
We are not alone. We have billions of brothers and sisters, all of whom breathe the same air and whose souls look to the same heights for meaning and purpose.²
As a protestant, I assumed (or at least hoped) my brothers and sisters were praying along with me. How much more wonderful it is to be audibly joined in prayer, which encourages all of us to come before the Father, in the Name of the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Memorized prayer doesn’t somehow relieve us of worrying about what we ought to say to God. It supports us and brings us into community with others who want to express the same thanksgivings; the same needs; to the same God and Savior.
It’s just one more way of bringing us together in God’s love. I’m not living for myself alone. I’m joined with an entire Church, living for God’s kingdom in all it does.³
¹ Amy Welborn, The Words We Pray: Discovering the Richness of Traditional Catholic Prayers, p. 195.
² Ibid, p. xvii.
³ Ibid, p. 56.