Jesus on the Mainline, tell him what you want
you got to call him up and tell him what you want
— The Staple Singers
My wife, reflecting on both the miraculous and the “merely” wonderful healing experiences she has witnessed, observed that the types of prayer the people who experienced these healings engaged in varied wildly from person to person. They didn’t always pray for healing, or to know God more, or for any of the traditional things modern Christians are told to pray for to endure hardship and to receive blessings.
I had separately observed the previous week that I was starting to think that prayer itself was less about worship and more about connection. This is why some monotheists pray to saints or to ancestors and do not consider that the same as worshipping them as deities. It’s about connection.
During the period in my adult life where I was deeply involved in a church, I did get some good things out of it. Community. Accountability. Discipline. But I never really developed a “prayer life”. In the tradition I was in, what I’ll call the “Abba Father” prayer style was popular. There were not rules per se, but there were expected patterns:
- Say “Father”, “Daddy”, or “Father God” a lot
- Start with gratitude for what God has done in your individual life
- Continue by abasing yourself as a person might before a king and acknowledging God’s sovereignty
- Make your request as a supplicant
- End with gratitude for whatever God will decide to do
Different leaders had different variants on this, but this was more or less the pattern that was most popular.
In contrast, I never really prayed in this way, because it didn’t feel authentic to how I experienced my relationship with God. God for me is simultaneously an intimately close being that cares a lot about my pain and challenges, and a wholly other, vast being for whom traditional monarchic worship doesn’t feel quite right. I have described myself over the past year as leaning into the “mystery” and “weirdness” of God, and that feels more correct. I still haven’t figured out how that translates into a regular discipline, but the style of prayer I have developed is…