Wednesday, August 13, 2008

By Sam Walter Foss

"The proper way for a man to pray,"
Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,
"And the only proper attitude,
Is down upon the knees."

"No, I should say the way to pray,"
Said Reverend Doctor Wise
"Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapt and upturned eyes."

"Oh, no, no, no," said Elder Slow,
"Such posture is too proud.
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
And head contritely bowed."

"It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front,
With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,"
Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.

"Last year I fell in Hidgekin's well
Headfirst," said Cyrus Brown,
"With both heels a-stickin' up
And my head a-pointing down.

"And I prayed a prayer right then and there,
The best prayer I ever said.
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
A-standin' on my head."

I was raised in a tradition that prayed. We prayed before meals, before meetings, before bed-times, before football games, and before rodeos. We even had morning prayers at my public school, which gives you some idea of how far back I go.

I had no doubt then that prayer did something; I was never sure, however, what it did. And, I must confess, after all these years, I'm still a bit confused. Prayer "is a puzzlement for me," as Winnie the Pooh would say. I pray, but I’m not always sure how it works,

I do know this, however: theological explanations aside, when I'm in deep and desperate need, prayer springs naturally from my lips and from the deepest level of my heart, a solemn truth Foss' bit of whimsy enshrines.

There are no atheists in foxholes, or in any other holes we dig for ourselves. When we're frightened out of our wits, when we're pushed beyond our limits, when we're pulled out of our comfort zones, when our well-being is challenged and endangered, we reflexively and involuntarily resort to prayer. "God help me," is our first language, our natal cry.

"Brief, urgent, frightened words-a person in trouble, crying out to God for help. The language is personal, direct, desperate. This is the language of prayer: men and women calling out their trouble-pain, guilt, doubt, despair-to God. Their lives are threatened. If they don't get help they will be dead, or diminished to some critical degree. The language of prayer is forged in the crucible of trouble. When we can't help ourselves and call for help, when we don't like where we are and want out, when we don't like who we are and want a change, we use primal language, and this language becomes the root language of prayer."[1]

Prayer begins in trouble (and continues because we're always in trouble to some degree.) It requires no special preparation, no precise language, no appropriate posture. We just do it! It springs from us impulsively in the face of necessity. "The natural thing is straight to the Father's knee." [2]

Doublehaul Dave


[1] Eugene Petterson, Answering God: the Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York, Harper Collins, 1989) p. 35
[2] George MacDonald

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