For over a week now, Ken and I have been saying prayers together every night.
It hasn’t always been a sublime experience. In fact, it’s been pretty mundane most nights.
It hasn’t even been something I’ve done 100% willingly. Some nights I’ve openly resisted the intrusion of the divine into my comfortable, worldly existence. It’s weird and a little jarring to go straight from Burn Notice or The Daily Show to the throne room of the Creator and Redeemer. It’s scary to look up from an evening (or even an entire day) spent in mindless frivolity and see the face of God beaming down.
Maybe, some of you might say, it would behoove me to spend my time differently. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t be so afraid or reluctant to pray.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for that line of thought — I’m reminded here of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the title character finds himself deeply troubled that he cannot pray after murdering the King:
One cried ‘God bless us!’ and ‘Amen’ the other;
As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.
Listening their fear, I could not say ‘Amen,’
When they did say ‘God bless us!’
. . .
But wherefore could not I pronounce ‘Amen’?
I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’
Stuck in my throat.
Even so, I have to believe that God hears and desires my prayers even though I continue to demonstrate time and again that I don’t deserve even a moment of his attention. I cling to my undying hope that if the murderous MacBeth approached the throne of heaven begging mercy, even he would find mercy there in abundance.
So, with clean lips or (more commonly) unclean lips, we prayed. Some nights, Ken prayed and I listened, quietly waiting to make sure he didn’t overlook any petition dear to my heart. Some nights, we both prayed in turn. One night, we prayed alone, when he stayed up late to finish a sermon and I went to bed early. Some nights, Ken read aloud from the Bible first to prepare our hearts and minds for prayer. Some nights, he didn’t. Most nights, we used our own words. A few nights, the words wouldn’t come, so we used the words we know by heart.
On at least once occasion, I dozed off for a few moments listening to Ken’s deep and sonorous voice gently carry our requests and thanksgivings heavenward, waking only for a sleepy “Amen” at the end.
In just these few days, prayer has once again become for me a peaceful and holy way to end the day, and I’m slowly — very slowly –beginning to feel myself get into the habit of it.
It’s becoming a kind of “second undressing” for me. First, preparing for bed, I peel off layers of stiff, uncomfortable work clothes and slip in the cozy softness of my nightgown. Then, praying, I peel away layers of my spirit — the hardness that accompanies a professional life; the frenzy of being a working mother; the sadness and shame of everything that hasn’t been right or holy about the day; the stress, striving, worry, and fear that seem to be always lurking in the background of human experience — until I’m clothed only in the soft baptismal garments of God’s grace and mercy. That’s how I like to think of it, anyway.
Praying each night as I end my days will continue to be a struggle for me, I have no doubt — even and especially on those days when I’m weary with the strain of this crazy life or secretly ashamed of the way I’ve been living it. But after this week, I no longer doubt that it’s worth the struggle to keep at it.
To close, I share with you an old fashioned bedtime prayer that is one of my favorites: Martin Luther’s evening prayer, which I pray often both by myself and with my family. Even my two-year-old knows the words.
I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, where this prayer appears, it is followed immediately by these words, which I have kept close to my heart throughout this week:
Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer.