(Dys)Functional Prayer

I remember as a child, washed and pressed from a week of kid-dom, sitting near my uncles and grandparents in church. Right side. gasp-picks-01011Third pew from the front. I sat on the aisle.  The stark white  curves that framed in our Methodist sanctuary felt like an open field on all sides and above, and the rich blues and yellows crooning out of the stained glass drew my attention from the message which to my ears sounded like a foreign nation's tongue. I always loved the imagery in the glass - sheep, doors, crowns, CHI-RHO's crisscrossing like the thatched topping on a succulent apple pie. On cue, I'd listen for the markers:

A scripture.

A song.

A talk.

And then...

There was a movement I longed for as a child, when the gentle white head of our circuit rider would bow and begin to use several "thee's" and "thou's" in a line. I heard it like a sprinter hears the halting bark of the starting judge, "Take your positions."

I slid my brown lace-ups into the aisle, blood red carpet bending beneath my yet-to-sprout foot.

"And we beseech thee..."

I leaned into the aisle, first the left arm over the edge then a full shoulder turn away from the front and the right arm began pointing in a 90 degree angle toward the door. Like some harbinger of things to come, I had to cast out many demons to keep from bolting before the adjournment - the final word - the gift and the promise and the hope of all tortured Methodist boys 8-10 years of age:


Leaving behind the "grip-and-grin" line with the pastor, already tasting Gran's roast beef on my tongue, I sprinted outside into the open air. Freed. The very thought that Jesus said, "if the son has set you free you are free indeed" would have drawn my mind to the moment of the Amen where I was released from the purgatory of Sunday morning. Had I even known that Scripture at the time.

I was reminded of this part of my life when I saw the title of a new women's study on prayer called "Prayer That Works!"

I was immediately back in my weathered corduroys and scratchy sweater, watching Rev. Wickline tip his wisdom-crowned dome and begin to speak Shakespeare to the Holy. Rolling the language of poets and stage crafters in an era gone by, and expecting them to draw a laboring world of the 1980's to the Good, Beautiful and True in a moment of transcendence.

Prayer that works. I let that phrase roll around, through the valleys of cynicism and the mountains of hope, and I wondered out loud - "Is it even supposed to?"

The prayer of my youth chased me out of the sanctuary. The prayer of my teenage years forestalled my being tossed wholesale into the abyss by the temperamental God of Phoebe Palmer American Holiness piety. The prayer of college gave peace in the instability, and the prayer of adulthood has led me to say less and listen more.

Prayer that works. I suppose the child in the corduroys may have something to say to the 30-something father today.

Don't be so quick to run away. In the mysterious words there is goodness to be found. Prayer that works? One can never quite tell.