I should be solidly on my way to Youngstown to offer a prayer writing retreat at the beginning of a quiet and somewhat subdued lenten season, spirits dampened by snow and oppressed by falling temperatures; but it’s snowing yet again and the outlook for this midwinter day is bleak, so I’m staying at home.
But yesterday, thinking about the adventure to come, I was led to reflect on how this all got started, this putting words on paper instead of simply shouting them into the breeze or burying them under my tongue, this prayer writing business.
I remember three things about my primary school in Frampton Cotterell.
I remember Mrs Chesterton’s class, the last I attended before we moved away. I remember my very best friends, Charlotte, and Richard, and Andrew. I remember our bully, Larry, and Jane, who always breathed through her mouth and who got the part in the Nativity pageant that I wanted. I remember Sally, who moved in halfway through the year, and who lived over the pub, so that I wasn’t allowed to go and play at her house.
I remember a couple of years earlier, Mrs Evans’ class. We were building with wooden blocks, and I don’t know how they all came tumbling down like thunder, and I honestly don’t think it was my fault, despite the pointing finger; but I was the one who got sent to sit in the corner. I broke my heart crying, sure that no one would ever think well of me or love me again. I still don’t know how I feel about original sin, but I was sure that I was born with original guilt. I was also worried that Mrs Evans would tell my mother. Mrs Evans was somewhat astonished at the idea, and explained to me about forgiveness, and moving on, and a pile of blocks being not that big a deal, and she picked me up and sent me off to assembly.
I remember the assemblies that Mr Jones, the headmaster, taught about the Lord’s Prayer, breaking it down piece by piece, so that even a six-year-old might have some chance at understanding what she was saying. I think that’s where it all began, where I fell in love with prayer. I already knew that the words were beautiful around my tongue: “Hallowed be thy name,” and now they had meaning, too; a match made in heaven.
In the beginning, when God brooded over the waters before creation, what was hatched were words: “Let there be.” Let there be light, day, night, plants and animals, and lastly us, someone to talk to, made in God’s image, to speak God’s language.
When we brood over prayer, growing and shifting and warming and breaking open words, knitting beauty and meaning together, sometimes one, sometimes the other shining through, and the pattern on the reverse side as intricate and confused as the one that we show; when we break open our hearts and bleed prayer, spilling words across the page, or into the air, or swallowing them whole, perhaps we participate in God’s ongoing work of creating us, making us into the image we were formed to become, the ones who speak God’s language.