Tag Archives: beginning prayer

Prayer Ending?

Prayer Continuing

     Why is it that what I’m praying moves from words to flesh? Last week, the prayer at the beginning of the day came to life in the shape of a math teacher.

An awful note came home on my son’s test. It took legitimate criticism into the land of undeserved negative reinforcement. When I spoke with its author, expressing my concern over the comments and asking to meet with her, she was surprised. If I had no issue with the her assessment of my son’s skills, why would I object to the note? A week and a few notes to school later, I went to meet her.

The easiest way to make her understand what she did wrong: wave my PhD and years of educational theory in front of her and perform a cutting assessment of the note. Use big words and direct eye contact. Prepare counter arguments in advance, and make sure she wouldn’t be sending notes like that again – to my son or any other student in her class. Turnabout is fair play, after all. Except I’ve spent the last couple of weeks asking God to “teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.”

I went to the meeting, listened to the teacher, and asked her to listen to what she wrote. What I learned: she is a good teacher of math, not such a good teacher of children. There was no ill intention, just a lack of emotional understanding – no ability to see that how something is expressed matters. Because she had already adopted a more positive attitude toward my son, I let the matter drop. I asked that future notes be sent to me rather than my son. No one was embarrassed or left embittered, and my son won’t have to read hurtful notes.

My son and I settled on a plan: he will forgive her verbal missteps and I will diligently reinterpret future notes. We will take into consideration her shortcomings and feelings, and continue to give her the benefit of the doubt. If another incident arises, I will meet with her again. We will keep praying for her, caring about her into the future. Will she have any awareness or gratitude for this? I don’t know, but I am aware of the grace I received: the chance to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing another – and to see my son do the same. For such grace, I give thanks.



O Lord, Grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me. Amen. (Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, d. 1867. From A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 20)

I missed something when I copied this prayer. Not a word, but a space. Here it is:

Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me.   Amen.

In my prayer manual, there is a three letter space separating the Amen from the rest of the prayer. I missed the presence of this absence when I began writing this prayer, paying no attention whatsoever to what wasn’t there. I might chalk it up as a printer’s mistake if there weren’t three spaces separating every writing in the prayer book from its concluding amen. Not an accident, then, but an intentional separation. If this were a book of prayers created for communal worship, I might think the space was added to remind the priest that the “amen” wasn’t his or her line – it’s the response of the congregation. But this is a book created for private devotional use. The one who says the prayer also says the amen, so why include a space?

Amen can be translated many ways: so be it, let it be, or make is so (the Star Trek: Next Generation version). It’s more than agreeing with a prayer, it’s asking God to make real what has been said. The gap between a prayer and an amen is there for a very good reason: to give me time to decide if I really want to commit the words to God. Do I really, truly want these words to be made real? Am I willing to be transformed by them – and work for the reality they bring? It’s one thing to mouth words about wanting the holiness of God to transform my life, it’s another to commit myself to it. Words are powerful, and prayers can change the world. Am I really ready to see the face of God in everything and everyone, even in myself? Words of prayer are a door into God’s love: the amen is taking hold of the Spirit’s hand and going through it.

With every amen, I cross a threshold. Once I move from the prayer to the amen, there’s no going back. Only God knows what adventures will follow. Chances are, I’ll be changed each and every time. The space tells me to be aware. This is a doorway to eternal love: enter at God’s own risk.

Line ten

Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me.

Direct my will, because will without direction spends itself getting lost in the maze of distractions that every day offers. When you direct my will, the world changes from a maze that confuses me to a labyrinth that leads me to you.

      Teach me to pray, because I can’t hear you or talk to you without learning from you. Prayer is holding myself and others up to you, handing my world back to you. Teach me, or I will grasp at things and cling to them rather than opening myself to your embrace.

     Pray thou thyself in me, because who I am is rooted in who you are. When you pray in me, my smallest self is embraced by you.

      Praying is dancing. When we are babies, someone dances us around, held in arms high above the floor. As we grow, someone slides feet under ours, teaching us the steps, holding us secure as we move to the music. When we put away childish size, we stand on our own feet, dancing with the partner of our soul who has shown us grace from the very first minute the music began.

Line nine

Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.

     When I first read this line, I took it to mean something like this: Every single thing the day brings requires energy, and I ask for the strength to meet each one of them even when I am tired. At first glance, it’s the day that’s bringing all things. But it’s not the only way to read this line.

     Today, give me strength to carry what being exhausted brings into my life. It’s not the things that the day shall bring, but all the things that fatigue brings. Fatigue is an exhaustion that comes from extreme mental or physical exertion. Weeks and months can go by in a blur because it takes every ounce of energy just to survive each day. Every moment becomes something to endure rather than something intentionally lived. Life can be reduced to checking off a nearly infinite to-do list with little time to enjoy a single item on it. Fatigue brings with it a life nearly impossible to bear with hope. Finally, it brings the truth: God’s strength is the only resource sufficient for such a time.

This happened to me once. My husband and I had moved to New York City where he was soon immersed in a new graduate program. I was busy with our infant son, teaching classes at New Brunswick Seminary, writing a dissertation, daily housework, and adjusting to my new home. Like Emily in Our Town, I realized that I was missing the beauty of my days. I could get everything done, but couldn’t seem to appreciate it or muster the strength to find God in it. With no better idea, I took a chance and met with Brother Clark for spiritual direction.  Brother Clark listened to me, paused, and said, “It sounds to me like you’re dealing with the blessing of answered prayer.”

He was right. All of it came from receiving a yes to heartfelt prayer. Although nothing changed, my world was transformed.

I think both readings of this line bring hope and peace. I ask for strength to bear what the day brings, and I need strength to bear what fatigue brings. Once upon a time in New York City, the day brought me the blessed reality of answered prayer – and fatigue brought me the truth that I could live in its midst and never see it.

Line eight

Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.

I learned the tango for a part in a high school musical. My partner and I had fun with the steps, but the overhead lift was scary. It took many drops and falls to figure out what was necessary to do the lift without injury: firm position, flexibility, and repeated forgiveness of mistakes. If I went limp, he couldn’t lift me; if his arms were too rigid, I’d land head first on the floor behind him. We made many mistakes, and we both got bruised. We had to trust each other while we danced, and we had to work with each other rather than against. Bumps and misplaced body parts were just a part of learning the dance, not evidence of the other person’s ineptitude. When we danced onstage, we weren’t perfect but we were partners.

Learning to tango helps me with this line. Acting firmly isn’t maintaining a position with no give – that kind of rigidity puts someone on the floor. Acting firmly is taking responsibility for my own part in how today’s dance turns out, not taking all the blame or foisting it onto my partner (That might produce a great argument, but not a dance). I can learn from my missteps and forgive the missteps of others, not becoming bitter or seeking to embarrass others.

Wisdom is knowing that life is a dance more than a race.  The purpose is to move together to create something beautiful, not to leave someone in the dust. God alone can teach me to see a dance floor instead of a race track.

Today is a dance and everyone I encounter is my partner. When I act firmly and trust my partner’s strength, the lift works. Isn’t that the point – using my strength to lift another, and trusting the strength of the other enough to defy gravity? I may not be perfect today, but I’ll dance.

Line seven

In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by thee.

I had planned on writing about joining the Tappan Zee parking lot club  or the submarine stuck in the mud, but today took an unexpected turn…

My son forgot his lunch box, so I drove to his school to drop it off, running into the Donuts for Dads school event. I arrived at Persy’s Place Restaurant five minutes late, just in time to hold the door for someone loaded down with packages. My friend Heidi took a call from a mutual friend – a chance for me to say hello. Some call such things serendipity, but back to the day….

I was back on schedule, until green lights got me to my library meeting in time to see an eight month old girl pull herself up and stand on her own two feet – an everyday miracle. Then I forgot my phone, so my husband got a call. My husband called home as I was going out the door, putting me on the road a bit late to pick up my son. Unexpected snow came down, so the cars  moved slower than usual. As I drove on Federal Furnace road, fireworks lit up the four-thirty sky. Ten seconds later, they were gone. If Jared hadn’t forgotten his lunch, who would have held the door? If I’d remembered my phone, I’d have missed the fireworks. Lunch, doors, babies, calls, fireworks.

My day could have been different, but it wasn’t. Today brought difficulties and delights because of something unforeseen. Had the day gone according to plan, I would have missed the door, the baby, and the fireworks. Then again, I would have seen other miracles. Perhaps no better, perhaps no worse. Either way, grace enters.

I have the grace of this life because of events seen and unforeseen. It could have been different, but it isn’t. I see that as grace, and I don’t want to forget that God sent it my way.

Line Six

In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.

“Your notebook is surprisingly well organized.”

My son’s math teacher made that comment when passing him in class. She wrote something similar in a mid-term review, leaving out the ‘surprisingly.’ When my son repeated the words, his emphasis, tone, and facial expression made it a backhanded compliment – more insult than encouragement. I don’t know what his teacher intended, or if she knows how her words were taken. It hardly matters at this point. What she says now doesn’t receive the benefit of the doubt from him, at least at first. He regularly reframes his initial negative attitude with a larger “even teachers need grace” neutral to positive perspective – not an easy grace for a sixth grader.

“I was surprised to see you understood the material on the test.”

My high school chemistry teacher said that when she stopped me in the hall one day. She had come out of her classroom when she saw me pass by. Mrs. Steele was smiling and her interest in me came through her words. She hadn’t been sure that she was an effective chemistry teacher for me and was happy to see that I understood a subject she loved so well. Thirty-three years later, I am still grateful for her words.

But it isn’t really the words, is it? On the surface, Mrs. Steele’s comment doesn’t read so well. You had to be there. The same with the notebook comment. It’s not just the words, it’s what comes through them. Children can tell when the intentions are good, and they are usually flexible enough to forgive verbal missteps.

What we say and do matters. How we feel about others permeates our deeds. When I write or speak, I ask for the Spirit’s guidance because words are important. When I string them together in a way that opens into God’s holiness, I give thanks. When I use them in ways that hurt, I ask for forgiveness – from those I know and those I’ll never meet. I wonder: how many times I have been forgiven for my words, given the benefit of the doubt? Seventy times seven doesn’t even scratch the surface. May I be gracious enough to assume the best and intend the gracious when I read and hear – and remember that God and so many others have done so for me.

Line Five

Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all.

Last week it snowed, and snowed a lot. The morning after the storm, over a foot of heavy snow sat on my car and the driveway, and it had to be moved. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to shovel out. The snow brought a choice: enjoy my time with the shovel or spend a miserable couple of hours cursing my fate. The snow sparkled on the lawn, and the snow blocked my path. Birds and squirrels played in the back yard and my mittens got wet. My husband couldn’t help me out the first half hour, and he finished the last half hour without my help. Two possible attitudes diverged in a pile of white, and I took the one that led to gratitude that day.

Peace of soul is like a language. It gives me new ways to speak about life and new eyes to see the world. A firm conviction that God’s will governs all isn’t a naive belief that everything is fun, good, or easy; it’s the choice to accept what is offered this day and to seek God’s presence through it. Nothing in this world can take away the peace God wills for me, but I have to learn not to throw it away.

 [The man who wrote these words was the son of a Russian Orthodox priest who became a priest himself. He taught at St. Petersburg Theological Academy, and eventually became the Metropolitan of Moscow – a ranking somewhere between archbishop and patriarch. Not quite on par with the pope, but awfully close. He worked for offering scripture and other teachings in Russian so more people could read them. He wrote a catechism that is still in use. I suspect Philaret was a very busy man who had his share of difficulties.]

Line Four

Bless my dealings with all who surround me.

O God who hears my prayer, I’m not alone in your world. I am surrounded by your beloved children. The five year old boy next door, the widow across the street, and the youth walking to the middle school past my house. The drivers in line before and behind me, the smiling teen who gives me my Dunkin’ coffee. This morning, I seek your blessing as I encounter them all.

In my dealings, help me pay attention to those around me. Bless me with the presence of self to make eye contact. Remind me to express gratitude. Create in me a clean heart that gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. Help me to take no offense, whether offense is intended or not.

Bless my dealings with all who surround me, not just some. I will never see some people again, and this is my one chance to show kindness. I will see others often, and it is my ongoing honor to bless them with honesty and high regard. They are not means to my own ends. Bless me with the good sense to remember this!

Third Line

In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me.

Long before I took my first breath, God’s creation existed; after I die, creation will continue. My mind and heart are too limited to grasp the enormity of this, and I can’t understand God’s will from my small corner of creation. The cosmos doesn’t stay still long enough for me to figure out my part in it. The universe continues to expand and contract, changing every second of every day. Every breath and heartbeat change my body, but I don’t usually notice them. The very cells that keep me alive move in mysterious ways, and I remain unaware of God’s will in them. Whether it’s cells too small for me to see or galaxies too large, creation is beyond me (even the part that is me!). I want to participate in God’s creation, to reflect God’s holy love and will in my life – I just can’t figure out how on my own.

Prayer is asking for God to show me what I cannot see on my own. God’s revelation isn’t like taking a peek at the universe’s answer sheet – nothing stays the same long enough for a static answer to suffice. Every hour the universe is made new, and God’s will grounds it all. To remember that God holds me in holiness requires constant and creative revelation. Surrounded by creation, held by God, is there anything in this world that isn’t holy? From my first hour to my last, I pray for the hourly revelation of this most gracious truth.