My First Prayer Meeting

When I went off to college, I wanted to find a Bible Study.  While my family had mixed religious affiliations, the net sum of the two faiths put me in a family that was essentially secular other than an occasional Christmas eve mass and my father’s annual passover candle.

Perhaps this was God’s trick – to create in me a spiritual thirst that could only be satisfied with the most radical group I could find.  I’ve often wondered if we raised our kids as secular atheists if they would have rebelled against all of our values and became missionaries to Borneo.

My quest led to a Bible study at my community college which led, through misunderstanding, to a book table of an entirely different group which led to a campus prayer meeting.  I was game for just about anything so I showed up.  There were three of us and we went around the group and prayed.  The only problem was that I never prayed in my life except the ones I learned by my on-occasion Catholic mother.

I rather liked the Catholic prayers.  I have memories of being in church and wanting to light a candle and say them.  In a rare time at History Forum_Februaryhome where somehow we prayed (I can’t remember why because we rarely prayed), I recited every prayer I knew – Our Father, Hail Mary, and probably some others I don’t remember.  My parents smiled approvingly because back in the 1960’s it was fashionable and good to like Christianity even if you weren’t practicing.  However, I was partially just showing off.

I never actually prayed impromptu as in “Let me take a moment from the regularly scheduled programming to say a few words from the heart” – that kind of prayer.  When it came my turn, I stumbled haplessly into what turned out to be an Evangelical prayer staple – I gave a weather and nature report.  I thanked God for the sun and moon and perhaps the plants.  I may have prayed for world peace.  I have no idea.

When we were done, one of the three, with a full hippie beard said, “Praise the Lord, Brother” and gave me a full bear hug.  I stood in a “what just happened here?” daze not realizing that the Jesus movement had fewer inhibitions – it was all about love.

Though I am still not a hugger, I did learn how to pray.  I can make up a prayer like the best of them – quote scriptures, work a prayer list, pray a mini-sermon so God ascertains the doctrine behind what I’m asking, and I can even lead with a weather report.  I have a few memorized prayers tucked aside.  And I can even do silence.

Nevertheless, after almost forty years, I still don’t understand prayer.  Not really.  I’ve given up trying to figure out the cause and effect.  I’m really not sure if my day will be better or worse if I pray or don’t pray.  I’m a bit doubtful that the moral ambiguities of culture is a direct result of my failure to pray more instead of watching American Idol with my wife (though perhaps the series end is a result of many husbands praying for deliverance).

I think it has something to do with this strange calling I have to something bigger than myself.  Some people figure out that they want to be writers or be successful in business or have babies or make their mark in baseball.  All of these types of things seemed secondary to me – a means to an end.  I have had this attraction to know God, to cultivate the spiritual man, and to touch something eternal.

I have no idea if I am doing it right and, to borrow a phrase from a friend, I may have stumbled upon the “God of my own misunderstanding.”  Nevertheless, I sense in my heart that something is there.  Something drew me to want to light candles, memorize the prayers, and show up at a little three man prayer meeting at a community college when most students were interested in the ski club.  Something stirs me when I am in the midst of muddled confusion to get on my knees and tell a God that is bigger than me that I’m really trying to believe that He has my best interests at heart and that I trust Him to guide and give discernment amidst the challenges of the day.


3 thoughts on “My First Prayer Meeting

  1. You and me both! (but you know this).

    Funny reading this today (8/1/16) after having written in my planner this morning (following a rare bout of despair this morning in my own daily prayer session) a note to my brother, sister, and father, all unbelievers: “You’ll be pleased to know that I have decided to stop praying for your souls.”

    Where this despair came from, I’m not quite sure. Probably the latest discouraging news from the 2016 election. Needless to say, tomorrow will probably find me mentioning my blissfully unaware family members that my daily prayers for them will have resumed.

    To what end? God only knows…

  2. Hi Dave!

    I’ve always enjoyed your writings and now have another good source of them, thanks!

    Having grown up Bible Presbyterian (you know they’re the good ones because they have “Bible” in the name) with my grandad as one of the founding pastors, prayer was long and all inclusive, lasting sometimes almost as long as a 6 point sermon. Grace at table time could be an exercise in patience and self denial. In fact, when my own dad was young, apparently he lacked self control on such occasions, once prayerfully leaning forward and sampling from his plate before grandad had finished. Now, I don’t accuse grandad of praying with his eyes open, but maybe his was a bit psychic. Anyway, dad’s prayerful attitude was rewarded with a sudden impulse to dig deeper into his chow and feed his whole face in the mess.

    Prayer is such an interesting subject. Why do we pray to One who knows it all end to end anyway? What’s the point of it? First and foremost, it is our nature to speak to those whom we love. With long association (tomorrow is Leny’s and my 43rd anniversary) such love does not have to speak every other minute, but it still needs voice that love as well as acting within it to the betterment of the one loved.

    Prayer is the breathing of the soul towards the One loved. It is gratitude, it is hope, it is sorrow, remorse and it is joy. It is life lived before God.

    In the two forms we have of prayer, public and private, I think the function remains (or at least should remain) the same, one for the corporate entity of the Body and the other for the unique individual.

    As I have grown older, one interesting thing I’ve discovered is the amount of nonsense I start to pray and am cut short in by the realization that I pray for what I desire. It’s not that such is necessarily wrong, but I find it at odds with loving God first and most. I also (unlike Daniel) do not have a regular time of prayer, but tend to pray “existentially”, i.e., in the moment. Many times, I think, I am not even aware of starting to pray, it just comes out. Scares Leny sometimes if I do it audibly…

    Prayer is the privilege and favor of God upon us, that we should be able even to speak to Him directly (without a priest or intermediary) and be heard in His love and understanding. We are saying,” Abba”…

    Best to you and Lorry!

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