So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. […] Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside (Lamott, 7).
Begin with a significant passage, words that seem to jump out and speak to you. The words may seem important, but they may also be reaching into your own thoughts lying deep within, just waiting to be explored and brought into the light.
I chose the passage above because I am reading Anne Lamott’s Help. Thanks. Wow. and I thought it would be a good idea to practice what I ask my own students to do. I ask them to make connections with the books they are reading. And I ask them to make connections for many reasons – because it seems to make writing and reading more meaningful, because it’s like discovering your own thoughts and your own voice, because it helps me and other readers – even struggling readers – to engage their brains in an activity they may not have known they could do. Making connections makes literacy meaningful. It deepens understanding and helps us make meaning, not only from the text, but, even more importantly, out of our own life experiences.
Anne Lamott’s search for and explanation of prayer reminds me of my own search for a spiritual and prayerful life. This is a journey that continues today. Even after 52 years I find myself yearning for more, searching for truth, and bumbling my way along in my religion and faith. I know a lot of prayers, but the ones that bring me closest to feeling God’s presence are the ones when I’m just being myself and speaking or writing my heart’s truth. At first, that mostly happened when I found myself in catastrophe and felt desperate for a quick and easy rescue. I’ve cried, “Help me,” throughout all my life trials: at endings when I wasn’t ready to let go, at beginnings where I was afraid to start, and in middles where I found myself lost, depressed, or tired. In my letters to God, I’ve made lists of my heart’s desire as I tried to imagine a better life. I’ve poured out my feelings too. And sometimes, I imagined God’s words writing back to me. He always reminds me how much I am loved and that everything is going to be okay.
Eventually, my letters of prayer included lists of gratitude – of what I was thankful for. Today, on my 52nd Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for my sweet husband, my children and family and friends, my colleagues and students and the cool and meaningful work we get to do together, my faith, church family and Father Jack, for getting to travel to D.C., be a presenter and attend fabulous presentations and think more deeply about the work I love, and for three particular students, who have found writing about life a meaningful way to make sense of it. They keep sharing their poems and blogs with me and encourage me to do the same. Thank you Chrysta, K. J., and Mela. Here I am, writing again.
So what about the significant passage above? I could wax on and on about my connection, but it’s only complete when I come back to the text and wonder, SO WHAT? What is the author trying to say about universal truth or meaning that could impact all readers? At this point, I’m only a third of the way through, so I will make a prediction about the SO WHAT. I think Lamott’s message will be that prayer is a simple and sometimes scary way to slow down, be in the moment, and take a good look at ourselves in the light of God’s love. Prayer challenges us to see beyond the crazy belief systems we may have been brought up with, especially when those belief systems dumped a lot of shame. Prayer is a way to be honest about our own behavior and part in things. But prayer is also a way to bask in God’s love and learn to treat ourselves with gentleness and kindness as we continue to bumble along our faith journeys. The more I treat myself that way, the easier it is for me to be gentle and kind to the souls I bump into along the way.
In closing, I leave you with another significant passage. In speaking of prayer, Lamott writes, “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little” (27).
Thank you, God, for the gift of connections and prayer.