Once again, during the pastoral prayer, I cautiously squint out of one eye to see if the minister is shaking a finger at me as he or she repeatedly prays: "Oh, Lord, remind us that...." (I find myself stunned that--without a scintilla of awareness or awesomeness or humility--the preacher blithely tells the One who has created the vast reaches of the universe what to do. Totally, unbelievably, astoundingly naïve or arrogant!)
That is not the only problem I have with the ministerial-spoken prayer in Sunday worship. Too often, the prayer is a list of items--similar, in my mind, to thumbing through a L. L. Bean catalog--for which we must be thankful, for which we must repent, and which we must do (it is the 'must' quality of the prayer makes me expect the finger shaking).
Words tumble out and images flash by so rapidly in the pastoral prayer that I am forced either to stay with one thought and forgo following the rest of the prayer or stick with the minister's words and find myself numb from exhaustion.
Exhausted and frustrated, I also feel a bit grim when, at the end, the prayer turns out to be a cover for a second sermon containing the pet peeves and social concerns of the minister. So prevalent are these mini-sermons, wrapped in the guise of prayer, that I consider as rare jewels those few ministers who actually help me pray, who allow prayer to happen through evocative words and enticing images.
When I was preparing public prayer, I first tried to 'escape' the torrent of words by adopting a Quaker-style silence. However, only individuals who practiced meditation tolerated bare and empty silence.
Then I found a different solution. I would speak only two or three sentences (related to the service's theme) and then encourage worshippers to move into the available silence with thoughts of their own. Even that 'perfect' solution came slightly unglued for me when a friend said that he felt my prayer sentences functioned like a cheerleader: "Gimme a T (thanksgiving); gimme a C (confession)." Even with this less-than-exciting image, I think that this pattern works better.
Yet, one particular form is not the main criteria. In some churches
I find the usual and traditional pastoral prayer touching me. I find that
happening, not when God is told what to do, not when I am preached at,
and not when a torrent of words and images assault my mind, but when a
genuine humble thoughtfulness is found, both in the words and in the minister.
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