“As a pastor I was charged with, among other things, teaching people to pray, helping them to give voice to the entire experience of being human, and to do it both honestly and thoroughly.” That’s what Eugene Peterson wrote. Give people a sense of what is possible and acceptable and available. Give them a sense that we talk with a person, not a force. We talk with someone loving, not angry. We use words and actions and groans and tears. We pray with all the passion and anger and fear and delight of the Psalm-writer.
Chaplains don’t pray with everyone. It’s possible to pray for everyone, of course, mostly not out loud. But many people would rather not have the chaplain pray. Because they don’t believe it makes a difference. Because they believe in a different way, with a different process, with a different vocabulary.
I respect that.
But sometimes, we’re asked to “say a little prayer.” And in those moments, I remember the words of Peterson.I offer the moment and my conversation with God as a time to teach people how to pray.
Not with demands but with honesty. Not with magic formulas but with thoughtful, sometimes tearful requests. I laugh when I pray, as I do in conversations, when I get a glimpse of what God may be saying, or what we may be doing. I acknowledge the many things that I do not understand, about God, about myself, about illness. And I almost always express gratitude that God’s love for us is greater than our love for him.
I often open my eyes after the “amen” to discover tears in the eyes of those in the room. I think it happens when we open our hearts and our minds just a bit, and discover that God was in the room all along.