Sure…prayer is, for the most part, a personal thing. It is also a corporate, human-divine exchange in places like churches and other public gatherings. And there is yet still a third-space kind of prayer. It can be like an intimate conversation between three friends: two are having a discussion while the third listens in, quiet, but fully engaged in all that is said.
Many times my heart has stood by, silent but attentive–nodding in agreement–as another talks to God. I am that third friend when I read the written-down prayers of biblical characters (oh, those psalm-prayers of David!) or of believers, past and present. More times than I can count, words formed in someone else’s heart and mind are the exact, yet still shapeless, sentiment my own soul has been struggling to express.
When I peak over the shoulder of another’s outpouring of longing or pain or love to God, my eyes well up while my spirit nods, “Yes. This.” And suddenly I am an active part of that intimate conversation, integrating my own expressions, ideas, thoughts, and yearnings into the conversation.
This is why I love other people’s prayers. (Yes, I collect them.) Their word-flames to God still send out sparks to the rest of us, igniting new fires of faith in my own sometimes-shivering soul. They take my mind to vantage points on the Divine Conversation we call prayer I would otherwise miss. The prayers of others (like a version of St. Patrick’s “Breastplate Prayer” which I’ve memorized and pray almost daily, or the one I discovered recently and absolutely LOVE by John Baillie, a 19th century Scottish theologian) help me pray more thought-fully, with greater passion and authenticity.
I will always, always talk to God in my own words. I will cry out to His bent-down, hand-cupped, ready-to-hear ear in my own stumbling, ineloquent way. But I am also glad to be that third friend, an eager over-the-shoulder eavesdropper to other people’s prayers. I’ll move over a bit, if you’d like to squeeze in–there’s always room for one more in the Divine Conversation.
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