When in trouble, call out to me; when I save you, sing my praise” (Ps. 50:15)
Anne Lamott calls, “Help,” the first great prayer. She identifies Help, Thanks and Wow as the simple prayers people need to endure the challenging parts of life. These are the prayers, she suggests, that lead us through trouble toward healing and transformation. I try… to ask God for help in my life, in our nation, in the world; to thank God for what is good; to feel awe for blue moons, apple crisp and unspeakable grace.
St. Paul implores us to “pray without ceasing” and trust the Holy Spirit to “intercede for us” when our sighs are “too deep for words.” Jesus emboldens us to require from God daily bread and forgiveness; Martin Luther recommends short, fervent prayers, for God has no need of “everlasting twaddle.” I give thanks for the Psalms where prayers are sometimes angry, demanding and include all the Help, Thanks, and Wow we can muster.
Lutherans, for the most part, fold our hands and bow our heads when we pray. Sometimes we kneel, maybe we even hold hands; often we make the sign of the cross at the onset or close of prayer.
How are you praying in these times? My COVID mantra has become “Dance it Out.” I have been moving my body (with the curtains closed). The background music may come from the Hamilton soundtrack, a Mozart Concerto or an ELW hymn. I am learning to pray with my body. Such movement is helping connect to God, to myself and to the world. It is a process, for me, of moving through trouble toward healing.
There is a tribe in Mexico who share a daily prayer practice. Prior to the evening meal, the family gathers together, on all fours, and wails for the losses of the day. Wails. For the small losses, for the big losses, for the momentous losses of the past 24 hours, with bodies close to the earth, each loss is remembered and honored before the final meal is shared.
I sort of love this practice, even as I feel discomfort imagining praying in this way. I haven’t tried it yet. But I know wailing is a thing – even in the Bible. I believe in my core that it is good for the mind, body and spirit. I am still learning to pray this way: to quite literally bow to the truth that every day includes little and big deaths; to acknowledge that our hearts are broken in this life; to give loud, guttural voice to the pain; to lean into the grief and pain; to open space for the possibility of healing and transformation.
However we pray, wherever we pray, in whatever ways we are learning to pray, God continually invites us to speak, to dance, to move, to weep, to delight, and yes, even to wail. I think Anne is right: Help is the first essential prayer. Perhaps it is also our final essential prayer. Mercifully, may there be many, many Thanks and Wows along the way.
Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth; help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart. Amen. Martin Luther
Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Penguin Books, 2012.
A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Go Cheryl Lafferty Eckl, Flying Crane Press, 2012.
1 Thessalonians 5:15-16
Luther’s Small Catechism; Luther’s Large Catechism