Adventures in Praying Together

A reflection by Sarah

“The poor shall eat and be satisfied and the hungry shall be filled with good things. O Master Christ our God, bless the food and drink of these, thy servants, for you are holy always, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

That’s the blessing Lindsey says over every meal we share together. Since the first time Lindsey and I joined over Skype for dinner, I’ve known that I can count on hearing this prayer at least once a day. It has become a key element in our shared spiritual life, and during certain seasons it has been the only prayer we’ve consistently engaged in together.

Concerning spirituality, Lindsey and I have discovered that we take very different approaches. Our dissimilar preferences are likely rooted in the two distinctive contexts in which we came to faith. Sometimes, I find myself surprised that we both ended up in the Christian tradition we now share, traveling to it from pathways so unalike. I grew up in a Christian family and was exposed to a variety of Christian spiritualities from childhood through college. Though I lived in an area where the Freewill, United, and Southern Baptist denominations dominate the religious landscape, I knew early on that I felt God’s presence most profoundly in liturgical worship. I’ve always believed in God, but if I had to identify a specific “this is real and I accept it” moment in my faith journey, I’d say without hesitation that it was during a Eucharistic holy hour one autumn when I was 18. I knelt in silence before the tabernacle in a rural Kentucky Catholic church and felt Christ’s presence as I never had before. I was overcome with peace and relief from the anxiety I had been attempting to ward off earlier that day, and I knew without a doubt that I was kneeling before Christ himself.

In contrast to my experience, Lindsey grew up not going to church and first became part of a faith community by playing electric bass in a praise band. Lindsey made a personal commitment to Christ during Lindsey’s freshman year of high school at a youth event, and later became active in various evangelical ministries during college. Because Lindsey came to faith within a contemporary, evangelical context–a world which was almost totally foreign to me until college–there have been times when I’ve experienced difficulty understanding Lindsey’s spirituality. One example of this is that I’ve never been especially drawn to free-formed prayer. It doesn’t come naturally, and historically I’ve had some experiences with spiritually abusive free-formed prayer. Whether my intention is to praise God, to give thanks, to ask forgiveness, or to cry out for help, I’m more apt to search the traditional prayers of the Church for something appropriate than to begin with my own words. Typically, I’ve found greater comfort in the rosary or prayer rope devotion than in approaching God informally. Lindsey, on the other hand, can articulate any diversity of prayer intentions with eloquence, yet in a conversational manner. I remember once after we first met, I asked Lindsey to pray for me regarding a health issue, and a second later Lindsey was responding to that request on the fly with an evangelical-style free-formed prayer. It took me a moment to catch up with what was happening. I recall staring blankly at Lindsey afterward and asking, “How did you do that?”

As Lindsey and I have been developing a way of life together, we’ve had many conversations about how different our processes were for coming into our shared Christian tradition. Lindsey first felt compelled to explore this tradition after attending Liturgy and observing the centrality of the Gospel in worship, making connections between this and the emphasis evangelical Christianity places on spreading the Gospel and encountering Christ in a personal way. Having been part of a liturgical tradition previously, I was attracted initially to the level of reverence people within this tradition have for the Liturgy and sacraments, and the mystical (and in many ways, organic) approach to theological issues I had previously been exposed to in more legalistic terms. Lindsey and I enjoy praying together during Liturgy, and because of the differences in our backgrounds sharing the experience and talking about it afterward becomes even more fascinating. Often, we’ll spend the drive home on Sunday discussing our responses to and observations during worship that day, and frequently the conversation will lead me to further reflection on my own experience based on what I’ve learned from Lindsey’s.

We learn a great deal from observing each other’s personal devotional practices and experimenting with ways to draw connections between our individual spiritualities. Sometimes, I see a bit of Lindsey rubbing off on me. There are times when I can sense the Holy Spirit’s presence during one of Lindsey’s powerful free-formed prayers—sometimes so much that when I need Lindsey to pray for me I ask, “Could you channel your former evangelical self for a moment?” And while I’m sure I’ll always prefer Gregorian and Byzantine chant to contemporary Christian music, thanks to the influence of Lindsey’s former praise band experience I find myself asking Lindsey to turn the car radio to our local praise and worship station occasionally. At the same time, Lindsey has begun to take great joy in asking me historical questions about the Liturgy and occasionally praying one of my favorite litanies with me when I’m feeling the need to be surrounded by the entire communion of saints. Our personal quirks and their impact on each other make for a rather unique learning experience as we approach the question of how best to cultivate a shared spiritual life.

In some seasons, we’ve made a regular practice of praying parts of the Divine Office together. In others, we have gravitated more toward praying individually, but joining together in discussion of scripture and spiritual reading materials. Still in others, the only prayer rule we’ve been able to follow jointly is Lindsey’s blessing over our evening meal. Endeavoring to pray together consistently is a challenge, and I imagine it will be for the rest of our lives together. We’re still learning how to appreciate and honor each other’s spiritualities because we believe it important to respect the different ways we came to know God individually prior to meeting each other. We see all of this as yet another adventure, and are eager to see all the places it will lead us along our journey towards Christ.

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