Help, Thanks, Wow: The 3 Essential Prayers

by admin on April 8, 2013

Psalm 70
Reflections for 7 April 2013

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with prayer. Maybe hot/cold is better. Sometimes I’m right on, reading, studying and actually praying about prayer. Other times….seems likes weeks on end….dry spells, avoidance, “what’s the use? Questions. What’s up with that?

Of any of the essential spiritual disciplines we’ve talked about over the years, prayer seems the easiest to do and the one most easy to neglect. When I was in college I discovered the Daily Office—matins and vespers in a book. It was life changing because it set the pattern of regular, definite, and intentional prayer in my conscience.

In college I was also exposed to free evangelical prayer, and the “Jesus we just” formula. Here prayer was done on your knees with your face buried in the chair cushion or nearly touching your nose to the floor. Folded hands and eyes tightly shut.

By your early 20s you begin to discover that life has a lot of uncertainty to it. Existential angst. My view of prayer began to shift from the sanitized exclamations of the religiously certain to the gasps and pleas of the confused and dazed. I am still there on a lot of days. And five minutes later I can be as certain as ever. What’s up with that?

One of my favorite relaxing things to do is go to the library and just look at books. Books spell trouble because they always remind me that I am never alone. CS Lewis we read to know we are not alone.

Recently I stumbled over one of my favorite writer’s book—an audio book—by Anne Lamott. It’s on prayer: Help, Thanks, Wow. The Three Essential Prayers. That’s pretty sums up for me a theology of prayer. That’s what I wish to speak about the next several weeks.

Anne Lamott is a renegade, a left-over hippie, an irreverent critic of everything and everyone she doesn’t agree with—which is lot. She is also a Jesus follower of the real and the raw. Her vocabulary is tough and her writing is not the smooth and polished phrases of sophistication. She is down in the dirt with life experience that would curl most people’s hair. And yet she gives a passionate and liberating witness to the “higher power” she so willingly calls Jesus.

I invite you to read some of her stuff: Traveling Mercies and Plan B are two favorites. Her little book on essential prayer is a winner Help, Thanks. Wow—the three essential prayers.

Let’s begin with a thought about prayer: a topic we’ve wrestled with here at Nova for a long time. That fact is one of the unique vistas we have here. The richness of Sunday questions and discussion is what fortifies me for the journey of real life.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast. (James Montgomery)

If anything prayer is communication of the heart. It can be silence and stillness; it can be energy and motion. Stopping in our tracks; backs against the wall; under the waives; tired of being tired– prayer is about seeking union with a Wholly Other (Martin Buber)

Anne Lamott adds this thought prayer is taking a chance against all odds and past history that we are loved and chosen and don’t have to get it together before we show up.

During Lent we talked about Less is More. Here is a pretty “less” understanding of prayer—simple, direct and do-able taking a chance that we don’t have to get it together. Above all, prayer is the chance for us to be totally honest about us. To use one of Lamott favorite phrases: God, I’m a mess, what else is new?

To begin our discussion on the first essential prayer: Help, let’s consider the words of Psalm 70. They are St. Benedict’s favorite prayer. Every time you go to prayer with the monks—seven times or more a day—this is the call to worship O God, come to my assistance, and be snappy while you’re at it.

Psalm 70 is an individual plea for deliverance: a personal lament. Lament is the largest category of the Psalter. What might that say? Walter Bruggemann says that the Psalms of Lament follow a pattern: orientation; dis-orientation; re-orientation. Life works a certain way; wham—now it’s screwed up; searching for and finding a new path. There is little chance of regaining “normal.” What appears is new life altogether

V1 and 5b are the same Help and hurry. Isn’t life usually lived in the fast lane? Our timing is always impeccable. A crisis isn’t a crisis unless it’s impinging on my world view. This is the way it is supposed to be is disregarded and now I’m at the complete mercy of out of control events. Tracking here?

Vv2-3⇒ Focus falls on one’s enemies: may they be confused and brought into dis-array. Let them experience the same trouble I’m in. They, of course, are without the benefit of God’s protection and oversight. Verse 3 – Aha, Aha – will be used later in the NT: Mark 15:29 it’s Jesus on the cross and his enemies use these very words.

While we know Jesus used Psalm 22, here is good evidence that Psalm 70 was constantly on his lips. And it that’s the case, couldn’t we benefit by using it, too?

V4⇒ But as for those of us who follow Israel’s God let us praise God forever more.

V5⇒ But I am a special case: poor and needy. We know from Scripture that God favors the poor. It was Mother Theresa who said that the poor were Jesus’ distressing disguise. Come and help me.

Anne Lamott offers some thoughts here.
1. Life is devastating; and it’s OK to be mad at God. Here is not only a plea for help but a frank admission at being at rock bottom. We all know from experience that once there, there is only one way to go. And in that moment there is blessing. What? You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matt 5:3)

When you’re at the bottom, you don’t need anyone to stand and remind you that “you’ll be a better person for this.” But once you begin to work your way, there is the discovery that there is relief in admitting powerlessness. I really don’t know how this will turn out. Our hands are open.

Here I think of a Billism: most of my problems come from my problem solving techniques. When trying to fix the un-fixable everything bad in my mind is engaged. My mind is chattering. There is tension in my body. And I’m hauling in all the trunks and wheel-ons from the past.

Come to my assistance—I’ve run out of handy answers and sure fire techniques. Tragedy is no respecter of persons as many of us know firsthand. Rick Warren and his wife mourn the tragic loss of their beloved son to his decision to end his life of torment. Here our prayer should be for compassion from all of us.

2. Help us get through. Anne Lamott tells the story of her friend tennis champ Arthur Ashe who was dying of AIDS. Mr. Ashe said that when he played tennis professionally he never asked God in his prayer to grant victory; and now, in his suffering, he wasn’t about to begin asking God to be healed. Instead Ashe’s prayer was to be held in God’s light and love.

Help us get through. When we tell others: I’ll be praying for you—what do you mean? How does that look? We pray for ourselves to be gracious and encouraging. And encouraging does not mean to reach down into your own anxiety and want people to get over their troubles. Encouraging is contra Job’s buddies filled with advice—just sit down and be quiet.

3. Pray for miracles. Psalm 70 releases us from the burden of having to figure it all out. What really happens here in “Help” is the entrance into a mystery. There is reality, and then there is Reality, with a capital R. Cracks begin to form in our belief system of how all this should go. The wise say that cracks is where the light of truth can seep in. That is Reality.

We have all witnessed survivors in the midst of the un-survivable. Lamott says that pain evolves. What becomes evident is resilience. I’m a big fan of that, especially in families. I believe that here is one of the unique callings of Nova: to build family resilience. We do that by allowing ourselves to be saturated by the light of Truth. There is realty and there is Reality.

That Reality offers something more. Remember Job? He wanted snappy answers to his predicament. And God’s reply? You wouldn’t understand.

Reality is life is disappointing. People break our hearts. Nice people finish last. We begin to realize that we have wasted so much time in life worrying and trying to please others. But Reality shows forth in those cracks: there is still new life and transformation.

Where to start? Right now. Come to my assistance. Psalm 70 does not use sanitized words. Again, there is not the idea that I have to get it together before I cry out. In the midst of suffering, Anne Lamott says, suspend judgment and conviction. Don’t jump to the conclusion that there is no one out there who hears. Take the chance.

Where to start? Anne suggests admitting to the three most terrible truths about human existence: we are so ruined, so loved, and in charge of so little.

Here is a suggestion. Make a God box. Right down your ugliest, most out of control, end of your rope times—the stuff of real down and dirty prayer, and put them in that box. In that motion in real time and space allow yourself to let go of them.

I think that motion in time and pace is what makes the Western Wall in Jerusalem such a powerful prayerful experience. Real time and real space. Think in terms of that when you call for help.

Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

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