Something about prayer….

by Elouise

My history with prayer is all over the map. I’ve probably heard more prayers than I’ve heard sermons. Too many to count. On the other hand, I’ve always struggled with prayer. Here are two posts talking about my childhood struggles with prayer: here and here.

Last year a friend gave me a slim volume of poems by Mary Oliver, a winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The volume I’m reading is Thirst.

What caught my eye this week was the first stanza of a longer poem titled “Six Recognitions of the Lord.” I’m still taking in the first stanza.

I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and my tongue.
Then I pray.

When I read these simple words, I feel lighter. I grew up hearing and trying to replicate, in my way, prayers that would be polite and proper. Yes, I spoke from my heart no matter when I prayed. Yet I also felt unbearably self-conscious about my prayers, especially about the words I used.

It didn’t matter whether I was praying privately or publicly, I feared my words wouldn’t live up to what God expected to hear from me. Or that they would be used by others to judge my spiritual formation.

Looking back, I know my family upbringing contributed to some of this. Whether by design or not, my prayers to God felt like baring my soul to whomever was listening. I feared someone was grading, judging or scrutinizing me. Would I pass the test?

Mary Oliver’s words are to the point and liberating. They’re also primarily about personal prayer, not public prayer. Though they may apply there as well.

The best analogy I can think of would be a child talking to a trusted parent or caregiver. Freely, without shame or hiding. With no need to impress anyone. Not calculating or careful about choice of words or what the other person might think about what I’m saying.

God just wants me to show up, talk and listen. Listen and talk. Using my own words. No matter how I feel today about God or myself.

First, Mary Oliver invites me to tear all fancy words from my heart and my tongue.

Praying your Sabbath is filled with childlike joy and delight.


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 July 2017
Artwork found on Google at