A Sane Prayer Life
Prayer is one of the most intimate things a person can do, but it is surprising how many people report having a sane prayer life. Rarely do I have people report praying crazy things. People are usually humble and patient, even if frustrated or even devastated by their situation. They are rational even in irrational times. I have a theory that a solid prayer life keeps you sane.
That is not necessarily the popular opinion of atheists, but among the things you can learn online, 55% of Americans pray daily according to a 2013 Pew Research poll. In our tradition, Anglican/Episcopal Christian, we stress daily prayer as a formal part of our formation and prayer life.
The Daily Office is not the same thing as a quiet time or devotional, though those traditions within Methodist and Evangelical traditions in the United States probably developed out of it. The Daily Office is a whole church version of the monastic, specifically Benedictine, opus Dei, or work of God. Benedict saw the monastic offices, regular and regulated sessions of prayer, as the praise of the faithful being intentionally ordered to be both realistic and keepable in a normal balanced life, even if one that is dedicated and set aside to God in the desert communities of the sixth century.
The English Reformers, led by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, distilled the hours to the Morning and Evening Offices that we call Morning and Evening Prayer. Later the church brought back into the Book of Common Prayer noontime and the late night Compline offices, pretty much as directed by the Rule of Benedict.
The Offices are kept pretty strictly, without much innovation. Martin Thornton, English priest writing about fifty years ago, saw the Office as part of a trinitarian prayer life, being dedicated to the God the Father. In keeping the Offices as proscribed we are submitting to the praise of the universal Church. This is part of a sane life, as Thornton points out, that is balanced between submitting to the Church universal in the Office and to the local community in the Eucharist. He also points out that sanity is not found only in submission, but in submission and freedom.
We are free in our tradition to pray as the Spirit leads in an ongoing way. We are invoked to prayer in the Book of Common Prayer but not told how to pray throughout the day. Granted, our BCP has prayers in it, but I would suggest that sanity in freedom should involve some devout and holy experiment. You should pray as the Spirit leads in whatever way is fitting.
I am an INFP, a Five on the Enneagram, and a Mystic according to the Myers-Briggs type indicator, Enneagram, and Urban Holmes’s Spirituality for Ministry. All of that is to say that my needle is set to quiet, introspective prayer. I need silence everyday and often daily. I retreat to quiet places constantly. But sometimes in prayer, I cry out, clench my fists, and even feel led to dance. I let music take me along to emotional places I don’t go without guidance. I try to extend my prayer life with a little time, after the Bible and silence that is.
Gil Stafford taught me this twenty years ago. Gil was my first spiritual director, and in a meeting one day in his office as then baseball coach at Grand Canyon University, we were catching up when he told me about deciding not to journal as part of his daily prayer. He had been journalling for a long time and realized that it had become dry and not very prayerful, so he was setting it aside for a while. I was blown away, even though he wasn’t teaching me per se, he was just sharing himself. But it modeling a kind of freedom that I just didn’t have at eighteen, even though there was no formal constraint.
Sanity admits to the reality of areas of life where we submit to others and find freedom in doing so. I often think people who complain about the weather are wasting their time, but people who complain about their own life are not dealing with reality very well. Okay, that includes me often enough, but I don’t always deal well with reality either. We submit and find life, but we also must find the areas of our life where we do have dominion or power and enjoy those areas as well, taking control of them and playing in them.
Where Martin Thornton says we must experiment reverently, I would say we must learn to play in prayer. We have to learn to trust God’s goodness and mercy and forgiveness enough to approach in prayer in the ways we are led to. We may fail in prayer. I have. I have also failed in communicating with my wife and kids and friends. They don’t cut me off, and how much more compassionate is my Abba?
We need places in prayer that we keep faithfully. Maybe that is Scripture or the Offices, but find a place to bow. Then play with all you have. God wants nothing less.