Reason #453 that I sometimes feel like a Bad Christian: I don’t often like corporate prayer, or whatever we call it when a bunch of folks get together and take turns talking to God.
I know, I know, someone should probably take away my Christian license, or revoke my church membership (which I think might still be with Albany Mennonite, a church I haven’t attended regularly for 25 years)(Reason #454).*
Or maybe a bunch of people might want to get together and pray for my everlasting soul, just blessing Jesus and each other while also just binding Satan from my heart. Don’t feel like you need to invite me to such an event, however. Like I said, I’m rarely comfortable with praying in groups.
And so while others speak rhapsodically about the power of praying together; and find opportunity to join hands and call out to God; and request we wait quietly for God to talk through us; and suggest we “go around the circle and offer up prayers,” I get kind of twitchy and impatient, which makes me feel cynical, which makes me feel like a bad Christian.
Part of my aggravation is my impatience, and nothing more. I hate sitting still (unless there’s an episode of Wife Swap on; then I do okay). Chafing at stillness not only makes me a bad Christian, but a bad Quaker, too. In prayer, the silence makes me wish we could get on with things already: for the meeting agenda to start or church to end or lunchtime to commence. While everyone else is praising Jesus in silent prayer, I’m thinking c’mon, c’mon, time’s wasting! My body wants to move. I want to sit down if we’re praying standing. I want to stand up if we’re sitting. And yet everyone else seems perfectly happy, blah blah blahing about stuff God already knows.
See, that’s the other thing about corporate prayer: sometimes it seems like we’re just telling God what God already knows. Of course God knows that people are broken, and that they long for God; of course God’s familiar with everyone’s needs, both spoken and unspoken; of course God plans to be in our midst, more present than I can be for even one moment.
You can quote me some C.S. Lewis if you want, about how prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us. Or whatever. And I do believe that about prayer; but sometimes when we’re praying together, and people are asking God to do this or that, I feel like they’re really just trying to control stuff, putting the rest of us on notice about how we should act or be or think. So that when someone prays “God, help us be a light in this clearly degraded world that every day needs you more,” I think they’re probably wanting us all to stop watching Wife Swap, and vote for someone other than Obama next time.
Which brings me to my last issue about corporate prayer. How am I to respond to someone else’s prayer, when I clearly (vehemently, even) don’t agree with what’s been asked of God? I was part of a group prayer recently when another person asked God to do something—or, more precisely, to not do something—that I found morally reprehensible, and I wasn’t sure what my response should be. I said to myself, in my head, “God, I don’t agree with that,” and then I stewed the rest of the evening, mad at the person praying and at the prayer. So much for prayer drawing us into a tighter community of support for one another.
And of course, lately—like, in the last decade lately—my ears have become attuned to the use of gendered language in prayer. Not only when someone prays for all of mankind or that God would forgive man his transgressions. When someone prays to Father God or King God or The Big Man in the Sky, I get even more twitchy, even more sad.
Okay, okay, so people aren’t often praying to The Big Man in the Sky, but they might as well be with all their Father Gods this and Father Gods that. Such prayers get me thinking that folks really aren’t hearing other folks who have said they struggle with exclusive language. Folks aren’t listening to me.
(So prayer isn’t supposed to be about me. I get that, too. Believe me.)
I think I need help. An intervention, perhaps. Or, in the least, I’d love to hear from other people, about how you handle the complexities of praying together in groups, especially when someone else prays something that drives you batty.
All I do now is whisper “Lord, have mercy on me, a really bad Christian.” But sometimes, that prayer does not feel like enough.
*Just kidding. I’m a member of Newberg Friends Church now. I just remembered. Not so bad a Christian, after all.