by Mary Lou Edgar, August 12, 2022
I have always felt that these words, from a song by Joe Wise, were about me —“Lord, teach us to pray. It’s been a long and cold December kind of day. With our hearts and minds all busy in our private little wars, we stand and watch each other now from separate shores. We lose the way.”
Years ago I knew I wanted to have an active prayer life; I just didn’t know how. For so long, prayer was something that I said before meals as well as when I needed something. I feel guilty about that now, but possibly that is one of the reasons I was led here to the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew.
When first coming to SsAM, I realized that I did not really pray. I said I had faith, but I’m not sure what that meant. I never really learned how to pray alone. It was always part of a service. I had been active in a church community for most of my life, and when someone asked me if I prayed about something, I would say yes. But I wasn’t sure.
In her recent sermon, Canon Martha Kirkpatrick spoke about journeys and the frequency with which they are mentioned in Scripture. This really resonated with me because I had decided that my reflection this week was going to be about my personal journey to pray.
The first thing I discovered was that I’m not as incompetent as I thought I was.
I began to realize that I had high expectations for what prayer was and how it sounded. Growing up, the God I knew was unapproachable. God equated with power and punishment – God made me afraid. As I spoke with more people I trusted, I was encouraged to consider a loving God. I tried. However, it was difficult to let my lifelong beliefs go. Furthermore, everyone I had ever heard pray seemed very skilled. Living in the Bible Belt, when someone would say, “let us pray,” they all sounded like Billy Graham. I questioned whether I could ever be of their caliber. Again, by reading and listening to others, I came to understand that this was not expected.
When I decided I wanted to be in relationship with the Lord, I had stopped attending church. However, I still felt like it was important for me to learn about God and make a commitment to follow Him. At the beginning of my journey, I began to read Scripture, question much of what I had been taught, and listen to those who walked before me. I would find myself talking over what I was thinking with God. I didn’t really think of it as prayer, but it was. Even though it was me doing the talking, I felt a sense of acceptance surrounding me.
It is OK to pray in anger.
I tried not to pray in anger. Then I heard the story of St. Teresa of Ávila. She was delivering food to the poor when a storm pushed her, her wagon, and all her goods into the river. It is said that she shook her fist at heaven saying, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies.” A wise person once asked me if I thought I was the only person who had been angry at God. I realized God could handle it. I thought of St. Teresa’s rant as a prayer. My journey continued.
As a social worker/therapist, journaling was always something I valued and recommended to others.
Sad to say, I never really considered it as a spiritual practice. Then I began to write what I was thinking, feeling, and doing regarding prayer. I would write what came to mind and not worry about it being grammatically correct. Every couple of weeks I would read what I had written and see so much repeated. I believe these were prods from the Spirit telling me that I needed to get busy. I would then pray. My ideas and my life were changing. Instead of fearing God, I was including Him, waiting for direction.
Being at SsAM has been a true gift for me.
I now participate as much as possible in the morning and evening prayers. I listen more intently during liturgies and rely not only on the Scripture readings but also on the Eucharistic prayers. I consider the Liturgy to be a great gift. I have begun to embrace the idea of contemplative prayer. It has taken me quite a while, but I have finally grasped the importance of being in the presence of God and listening to what is being shared.
I am new to this; sometimes I feel a bit strange. But I know this is based on past beliefs. Feeling God being with me through prayer is a phenomenal gift. I am able to just be and allow God’s love to surround me.
We all need this now more than ever as our world is full of antagonism and animosity. My journey is not complete; it will continue. Just as I have changed to get this far, I will continue to change. The difference is that now I welcome that change and look forward to wherever my journey takes me.
The fruit of Silence is Prayer. The fruit of Prayer is Faith. The fruit of Faith is Love. The fruit of Love is Service. The fruit of Service is Peace.” — Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Lou Edgar, MSS, is a clinical social worker who founded A Better Chance for Our Children, an adoption and foster care agency that works to find permanent homes for children in the foster care system. Mary Lou was the Executive Director of ABCFOC, but she is now retired. She graduated from Neumann University and Bryn Mawr School of Social Work and Social Research. She and her husband joined SsAM in 2021.