This is a follow-up of what I wrote previously on prayer as a legitimate, appropriate, and perhaps primary form (language, indeed) of theologizing.
On his memoir, Hannah’s Child (Eerdmans, 2010; a must-read!), Stanley Hauerwas narrated a story of how he learnt to pray before he started his lesson in class. He also wrote each prayer, as “I do not trust prayer to spontaneity. Most ‘spontaneous prayer’ turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous. Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, ‘Lord, we just ask you . . .’ Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much. I pray that God will save us from that ‘just.'” (255) And some of his prayers were collected into a book, Prayers Plainly Spoken (IVP, 1999).
(Hauerwas’ critique is spot on. Our “spontaneous” prayer is often not spontaneous at all and actually formulaic. Anyway, another theologian whose prayers were collected into books is Walter Brueggemann: Awed in Heaven, Rooted in Earth (Fortress, 2003) and Prayers for a Privileged People (Abingdon, 2008). And Scot McKnight posted his prayer routinely on his blog.)
Hence, in line with David, Hauerwas, and Brueggemann, let me try an exercise in writing a prayer.
Dear God, how could we pray to you? I understand that I should pray to you in the name of your Son through your Spirit, but, seriously, I rarely pray. You see, even when I tried to pray, I couldn’t do it. Well, I realize that prayer is a discipline, such that if I don’t practice it, of course I won’t be able to do it. But, I also often think that whenever I pray, perhaps what I am actually doing is simply conversing to myself. Sometimes (you know those dark days), it evolves into some kind of self-pity. At other times, it becomes a self-encouragement. Indeed, isn’t it what I am doing right now, as I keep talking to myself and not to you? O God, I want to pray; help my unbelief! Could I just say anything to you? Well, since I guess that I could, here you go: I never realize that it would be this difficult to write a prayer to you. I’ll learn, God, I’ll learn. I will pray.