The Many Pathways To Prayer & Care (This Summer's Vision, Pt 2) - Vince Brackett
Story: When I learned to swear in prayer
So I grew up seeing prayer as just-fine but not-really-meaningful ritual. My family was not very spiritual at all, but we were culturally Catholic, and so my experience of praying was the Our Father and Hail Mary.
Lots of people had bad experiences with religion as a result of such backgrounds, and I have a ton of sympathy for that, but luckily I didn’t have a bad experience, just a “nothing really” experience.
So later in life, I became a praying person. But, beyond the not-terribly-meaningful ritual prayers I kind of remembered from my youth, I obviously had little in the way of modeling or teaching about how to pray.
So I picked up that modeling and teaching on the fly as a young adult by starting to go to a church that talked a lot about prayer and believed that God is relational and will interact with us if we interact with him. Various friends and mentors I got to know at this church taught me all kinds of things.
One comes to mind in particular: I had gone to a wedding of two friends from the church. And it was a great wedding. Except for the fact that I was single and had recently swung and missed with a girl I liked — and there’s kind of nothing you want to go to less than a wedding at that moment. But these were friends I wanted to support and there were other friends there too, so it was cool.
Anyway, one older guy I’d gotten to know through the church was there. He is this incredibly insightful and intuitive guy (maybe the most I’ve ever met — truly a spiritual gift — he can just feel what others are feeling, and he really maturely understands that as a gift from God to be responsible with, so he is just constantly speaking encouragement from God to people — an awesome guy).
So he sees me and comes over to me, as he can of course sense that I’m down — I guess, that day, you didn’t need to be supernaturally intuitive to tell but, hey, no one else came over to me.
He asks me what’s going on, and he asks about how my prayer life is in the midst of feeling crappy about being single and having swung and missed with this girl.
And then he asks a question that I was NOT expecting: ::do you ever swear when you’re praying?::
And I was just kind of taken aback, as I’d not really ever heard someone talk about prayer that way.
And he was like: yeah, do you ever let the curse words fly with God? A lot of people don’t realize how helpful that can be. Because life often feels like it warrants curse words, and if you’re pretending to feel something else, something more buttoned up, with God, well then you’re not really relating with God honestly.
God’s not scandalized or squeamish, he explained. God’s not uncomfortable with your anger or “inappropriate” language. He cares about having actual relationship with us. So if that’s you or what’s inside you currently, you should just swear.
He was like: I swear all the time in prayer. It’s great!
So I started doing this. I was in a groove at that time where I was writing out my prayers most days in a notebook.
And that notebook was full of curse words. Because I was mad, and I was sad that I was not in a relationship.
But of course the takeaway for this in the long run really has nothing to do with swearing; it has everything to do with ::prayer being relational:: — prayer being able to look so many different ways, even ways I wouldn’t have expected, because prayer is simply about honest relationship — and what is honest for each person will look different. And what is honest for each person will even look different for the same person, depending on the season of life they are in.
One of the more rewarding things looking back now is that some years after that, having then been a praying person for a good amount of time, my prayer life eventually came full circle in a way, in that another season came when I found myself returning to many ritual Catholic prayers that had some familiarity from the culture of my youth, but now felt filled with spiritual meaning to me.
And, now, having been a pastor for over six years of our uniquely diverse community — when it comes to religious experience and background — I am all the more so enjoying the diversity I see in prayer and prayer lives.
What I’ve learned from all this
::Prayer is cultural, and that’s great!::
Of course it is. Of course the ways we pray are determined by where we come from, and what we grew up in, and who teaches and models things for us along the way.
There are these hardly-noticeable moments in the earliest narratives of the Bible that have always got me thinking about this.
Here’s a passage from the book of Genesis’ story of Abraham, or Abram - the father of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions:
1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.5He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.7The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
::The bit that I love is this “building an alter to the Lord” thing we see twice.::
I remember reading that once and being like, well how on earth did he know to do that? Who did Abraham learn altar building from? Where did that practice come from if it was before Abraham’s first real meaningful interactions with God?
And I think the answer to that question is embedded in the unfolding story of the Bible — which puts on display all manner of ways to “pray to God” to “relate to God honestly” —
- from “altar building” in Genesis, to Jesus “regularly retreating to quiet spaces early in the morning to speak with God,”
- from “private visions in St. Peter’s sleep” to “communal impressions of what God is saying, felt over dining room tables, and described as experiences of the Holy Spirit.”
The answer to “where did altar building come from as a prayer practice?” is: Abraham’s culture.
He came from a culture that was already familiar with building alters as a part of religious life. Great! Yay for alter building! We wouldn’t do that today, because that’s not our culture, but for Abraham’s day it makes total sense, because prayer is a cultural expression.
We all have cultures, so we all relate to God in different ways.
The Spiritual Pathways Inventory
One helpful distillation of this we’ve used in this church is ::a list of spiritual pathways:: that seems to capture most modern day Americans’ various cultural experiences — I wonder if this unlocks anything for you? What we usually do is ask people to consider their “top three” from this list — what feels natural to you?
The Relational Pathway
- Love to meet God with others
- Love serving in a team
- Feel God most when able to share/worship/pray with others
- May struggle with solitude and being alone
The Intellectual Pathway
- Experience God in long conversations about him.
- Deepest convictions have incredible resilience, but this can also lead to over-confidence
- May tend to repress emotions.
The Serving Pathway
- Feel closest to God when they are quietly and consistently doing good.
- Worship God by dropping what they’re doing to take care of others.
- May struggle with a need to be needed.
The Contemplative Pathway
- Huge capacity for experiencing God in personal prayer
- Might guard their schedules, as more easily drained by relationships and activities
- Intuitive – they see the patterns in things
- May be prone to retreating from relationships, due to their need for solitude
The Activist Pathway
- Feel God through their connection to a greater cause or mission
- At their best at 90 miles an hour!
- Revel in a highly challenging environment that pushes them to the edge of their potential
- May be prone to biting off more than they can chew
The Creation Pathway
- Being outdoors in natural environment dramatically increases their awareness of God.
- God speaks to them most through the trees, mountains, waters, etc.
- May be prone to retreating from relationships, due to their need for a pleasing environment
The Arts Pathway
- They hear God speak to them most through music, art, creativity.
- Not necessarily a creator of art; but very much an appreciator and lover of art
- Often highly empathetic and attuned to God’s Holy Spirit
- Can be volatile emotionally, due to their endless pursuit of artistic expressions with which they can empathize
I love this. I always feel super helped when I look at these. Prayer happens so many different ways for people. What your top three?
We try to account for that in all we do — even in our Sunday services: we try to engage in different types of prayer, hitting different pathways.
This Summer’s Vision
Well we’re trying to get all of us here in this church right now thinking about prayer and our unique personal pathways to prayer, because of a vision that we’ve started talking about for this summer.
::The vision is leaning into one particularly core value of ours: being a community of care. And, in our church’s experience, care has almost always started with prayer.::
When people spend time praying with each other and for each other, compassion increases. Lives become more intertwined, in a good way. The cares of others become our cares. We feel more free to let others into our cares.
Prayer is where Pastoral Care is birthed. Things like:
- being with someone who is in crisis or who has lost a loved one,
- or insuring someone has a meal train set up after they have a baby or experience a massive transition or upheaval
- or doing the little things like taking someone out for coffee or a drink after a defeating or lonely day
We want people to be praying for each others’ needs and for the greater needs of our community because we want everyone here to see themselves as the pastors of this church — caring for each other We want BLV to be a place where everyone here and everyone who comes into contact with us feels cared for.
Kyle and I are pastors on staff here NOT because we’re the only ones caring for people, but because we’re the organizers of all this pastoral care. But the vision is that we’re all pastors.
So this summer, we’re launching a new level of leadership here at BLV: what we’re calling our Pastoral Care Core, and we want you to consider if this is a level of leadership you feel might be right for you.
Our goal is that this would be a team of people who are leading the effort in caring for each other at this church — the meal trains, the hospital visits, the asking good questions, the taking people out for a beer or coffee, the encouraging people into personal growth.
But all of this, we believe, begins with prayer.
We’ll talk more about how to raise your hand for this Pastoral Care Core as the summer goes on, but the way you can get a taste of what we mean right now, and try this on for size is by joining us for prayer after service today.
Each of these Sundays in July, we’re ending our adult service 20 minutes early, and then having a prayer time for anyone who’d like to participate — we’ll pray for big things, like our city, our country, our church, our neighborhood, and we’ll pray for personal things — our family members, our jobs, our stresses, our kids.
Kyle or I are leading these post-service prayer times, and we’ll try to make it as easy as possible to participate in — no matter your spiritual pathway.
We’ll gather right over here after service lets out, but our kids program won’t let out until our usual time, 11:30, so parents can join us.
I said last week I don’t think we’ve created this much intentional space for group prayer since we first stated the church the spring and summer of 2013.
::And so the image I’ve had of this vision for the summer is re-potting the plant that is BLV.:: Throughout the lifecycle of a plant you have to replant it to keep it growing healthily.
So we’re asking for you to help us re-pot our plant.
The impact of this, we think, will be:
- hopefully lots of people feeling cared for in the times we create for prayer.
- BUT also, beyond the prayer times themselves, we hope this will have an overriding impact on how caring BLV feels to anyone and everyone who comes into contact with us — whether someone is a part of our prayer times or not — because care is, in a good way, contagious. If one person feels cared for in a profound way, they pass that on.
That’s the vision we think God has for BLV this summer.
Stand with me, and I’d love to pray over us along these lines…