Teach Us To Pray
May we reveal our abundance without shame.
May we peel back our sleeping wintery layers Like snakeskins, like the silk chrysalis, Like clothing cast off during love.
May we unravel with abandon like lover’s knots Before knitting ourselves back to the heart.
(Lisa Colt, Claiming the Spirit Within, Marilyn Sewell, editor, 1996)
by Susan Schneider
This poem offers some fresh, potent images for us to ponder as we contemplate praying. Prayer is not offering a laundry list of our needs and wants to God, nor is it a recounting of every sin we have committed this week. It is more than requesting that God would tend to our loved ones or to give comfort to the grieving or ill. It is a sharing of our whole selves—our abundance as well as our paucity. It is an intimate, tender interaction with God, a mutual revelation. It is transformative, in both a universal and a deeply personal way.
One of my seminary professors, Martha Stortz, once said, “Prayer always seems like a good thing to do. But in fact, prayer is a kind of undoing. Prayer undoes us.” That’s what Lisa Colt is describing in her poem—prayer that undoes us. Undoes the knots. Peels open the chrysalis to reveal our beautiful colors. Releases us and others from whatever “old skins” have been keeping us from moving on in the direction of life, life, and more life.
But how does it do these things? What difference does prayer make in real life? What happens when we pray? Does it change anything? And if it does, what does it change? The situation? God’s mind? Other people? Us? Any combination of these?
Perhaps the Good News (the gospel) is that we really don’t have to know how or why prayer works. The point is that the Bible demonstrates God’s desire to be in ongoing conversation with the people God loves. God is made known in fire and in wind, in one-on-one conversation, and in the presence of multitudes. Sometimes God’s people wail in lament or whine about hardships. Sometimes they whisper songs of longing or shout with joy and thanksgiving. In the four gospels, there are many examples of Jesus him- self praying—sometimes by himself, sometimes with others—and teaching the disciples to do the same.
The Rev. Susan Schneider learns a lot about praying from her cat, Esperanza, who is never afraid to ask for what she wants. Sue worked in public relations and taught English before graduating from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in 2002. She is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison, Wis.