A Rhythm of Prayer
Introduction by Sarah Bessey
I grew up and came of age in prayer circles, particularly prayer circles with women. In living rooms and the basements of churches, the women of my life—from church mothers to brand-new babies yawning in footie sleepers to earnest youth group leaders—would gather to pray together. We prayed so differently—there was the lady who prayed exclusively with words from scripture, one who prayed like she was preaching, one who told everyone off in her prayers, another who cried throughout. We spoke in tongues and in silence; we read prayers from other people and made up our own. Sometimes we simply sat together, in the quiet, hands open and waiting like Quakers for the Spirit to move in or through one of us. We prayed for the world, for justice, for the poor, for our nation, and for each other, but we also learned to just sit with Jesus together.
I miss those prayer circles. I miss the feeling of being encircled in homemade prayer with others. Given the nature of my work as both a writer and in co-leading the Evolving Faith community, I hear from people all the time that they don’t know how to pray anymore, that they miss prayer, or that perhaps they, too, need to reimagine prayer.
And so I began to dream of this book. A book that could co-create that space for those of us who wander in the wilderness more often than not—an open circle where you could pull up a chair and find rest in the prayers of those who also walk with God.
Often when we find ourselves at a crossroad in our faith, rethinking everything from church to scripture to family to art to politics to science to prayer, we think we have only two options: double down or burn it down. So when it comes to prayer, we might mistakenly believe that if we can’t pray the way we used to or the way we were taught, somehow that means we can’t or don’t pray anymore, period.
Many of us were introduced to prayer in one particular way, largely depending on our culture, our religion, our faith tradition, our family. And many of us have lost those old pathways of prayer. There are many reasons for this: perhaps the tradition we inherited was never one we felt comfortable with; perhaps the prayer warrior who once took us under their wing somewhere along the way lost our trust, or any number of good and valid reasons. This can leave us in a disorienting season emptied of prayer, longing for prayer, yet not knowing how to begin again. Sometimes when we lose prayer, it can be for the best: now that we no longer pray as we were taught, we are finally able to pray in both old and new words and silences.
When I first began to envision this book about prayer, I knew right away what I didn’t
want to give you: a nice and tidy new set of prayers to co-opt for your own. Nope, what I wanted was equal parts example and invitation, permission and challenge, to acknowledge the heaviness of our grief and at the same time broaden our hope.
Frankly, I love to pray, and I think the prayers of people like us—however we show up to these pages—matter. Not in spite of scripture but because of it. Not in spite of Church but because of her. Not in spite of our questions and doubts but because of them. Not in spite of our grief and our longing, our yearning for justice and our anger, but because of them.
So no, the point of this is not to give you prayers to pray but to show you: you still get to pray. Prayer is still for you. You still get to cry out to God, you still get to yell, weep, praise, and sit in the silence until you sink down into the Love of God that has always been holding you whether you knew it or not.
I want this to help you feel a bit less alone. My hope is that you’ll borrow language from these prayers and be reminded that you are held—always, fully, completely—in the Love of God. I want this to be an act of resistance at this moment in our time, a way for us to fling wide the doors to prayer, to set up a few tables in your wilderness so that we can feast together on truth, justice, and goodness.
So clearly my expectations are very reasonable.
If there is one thing I know about navigating an evolving faith, both through my firsthand experiences and through shepherding many others in this path of wilderness formation, it is this: the work of reclaiming and reimagining is good, hard, holy work.
And it’s worthwhile.
There is room for your whole self in prayer. You can bring your whole body to this altar, this place where you meet with God with words or with wordless knowing. You don’t need to pretend you aren’t angry, that you aren’t cynical or afraid, that you aren’t feeling a bit hopeless or uncomfortable or envious or tired. That’s how a lot of the Psalms came to be, after all. I believe that scripture gives us a more fulsome and complete view of prayer than we were perhaps taught and so I wanted this book to show all of them.
In these pages, we have liturgy and guided meditations; we also have laments and even some imprecatory prayers, which may make you uncomfortable with their honesty. We have thanksgiving and praise, we have cries for justice, challenge, and comfort, we have practices and psalms. I’m from a Pentecostal, charismatic background myself, and so I am all the way here for the naming and calling out of what Paul called “powers and principalities” because in these days I don’t know what else to call evils like white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, nationalism, colonialism, transphobia, racism. Name them for what they are, Church, and let’s take it to prayer, especially as we take it to the streets.
You may sense the invitation of the Holy Spirit to lean into new language, new practices, old longings. That’s okay. I ask only that you stay open to the possibility of healing, to the possibility of hope, of renewal and restoration, perhaps even resurrection, through prayer.
It is in prayer that I have most encountered the wild and inclusive, beautiful and welcoming, abundant love of God without filter or measure, without condition or boundary. Prayers like these are one way that our places of weakness become pillars of strength. We bring our whole self to God and find Love was our home all along. That’s where we find that our desert will bloom with flowers, the rivers will run again, everything will be redeemed.
I asked each of these women to join this prayer circle because they are my own teachers. In their own lives, they are engaged in speaking prophetically, embodying a challenge to the Empire, exploring new paths of faithfulness, and are rooted in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, in a way that invites and expands our ideas of prayer and God. This community of leaders are speaking to all of the ways we pray—with silence, with our bodies, with ancient prayers, liturgy, rage, swearing, adoration, confession, repentance, demands, yearnings, grief, and all in between. And in this book, they do just that, by giving us a glimpse of their innermost intimate prayers. I pray that we can receive their offerings with gratitude, looking for the invitation from God within each line.
My hope is that you will have your understanding of prayer expanded, lit up, renewed. May these pages encourage you to reengage with prayer, particularly on the other side of a faith shift or sea change. In these pages, may you find a new way to pray, a new way of understanding the ancient ways, and be given a new language to express your own deepest longings and hopes not only for yourself but for the world.
Ultimately, I hope this feels like what those Wednesday night prayer meetings used to be for me: a rhythm of prayer, in all the ways we pray for all the rhythms of our lives. May it be hope for the grieving, tenderness for the hurting, challenge for the comfortable, a kick in the ass for the lethargic, a permission slip allowing rest for the overwhelmed, an anointing for the work ahead, and a sanctuary. It is a way for us to gather together in prayer as we scatter back out into the world at this moment in time.
May you feel at your darkest hour, when you are tired, that God is holding you tight. May you find a new rhythm of prayer that makes you sway, makes you kneel, makes you dance. May you be blessed with discomfort, wonder, and curiosity about the Story with which we all continue to wrestle. May you be quieted by this love, may your striving and hustling pause for a moment so you can know Love is with you; Love is mighty to save; Love is your home. May you experience the surprising, open-door, generous, invitational, creative, disruptive, welcoming Love of God and may you leave these pages filled with unexpected hope.
Ash Wednesday 2020