“HAVE YOU PRAYED WITHOUT COMMAS?” (Mt 6:7-15): 12 February 2008 (Tuesday)
One of the funniest books I’ve read in recent times—one of the very few, in fact, that have actually made me laugh out loud—is a little book called Traveling Merciesby Anne Lamott. But this funny book is also one of the most deeply spiritual books I’ve read in years.
The strange thing about the book though is that the author is a single mother who is also a recovering alcoholic and a former drug addict. So you kind of wonder: How can someone like that whip up a book that is so profound and so moving—one that has even actually made me on occasion shed tears?
For those of us who have been on our own spiritual journeys, that is of course no real surprise; it’s nothing to puzzle about. We know that it is precisely someone like that—someone who has strayed, lost her way and lost her self in the process—maybe only someone like that who can stumble over and discover that place deep within us where the soul can encounter God.
Anna Lamott writes in her books that the two best prayers she knows are: “Help me help me help me!” and “Thank you thank you thank you!” Two very simple, very basic prayers, repeated breathlessly, so I call them prayers without commas. What’s great about these prayers is not so much their words, but their desperation.
We all know the desperation of the first prayer: “Help me help me help me!” Haven’t we been in situations that have demanded such desperation? Those of us who have found ourselves with a loved one in the ICU know what that prayer means. We grip the railing of the hospital bed, or we bruise our fingers with the beads of our rosary, but the only prayer that comes out of us is this breathless, desperate cry for God’s help.
On such occasions we are swept away by our great need for God and our great desire for his help. Our desperation is a non-stop knocking on the door of God’s heart.
But what about “Thank you thank you thank you”? Have we also encountered occasions in our lives when we actually felt desperate in our gratitude to God? It actually doesn’t seem to make sense: How can we be desperate in thanking the Lord? But what is desperation, after all, but great desire and great need. When things are going well–or too well–we should feel the same desperately great desire and great need to thank God, shouldn’t we?
Unfortunately, true to my very human nature, I am ashamed to say that I can remember perhaps only one or two such occasions in my life. Not that I have received very few incredibly wonderful gifts from God. On the contrary, I have–and too often! My memory fails me because too often my heart has been too small or too fickle and forgetful, rushing off to celebrate the gifts that I’ve done nothing to deserve and not lingering long enough to thank the Gift-Giver.
In the Gospel today our Lord teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. We all know the words by heart. In fact, the Catholics among us have been notoriously criticized for holding the Guinness World Record for the ability to recite it the fastest! But here’s my take: It really doesn’t matter how fast or how slow we recite it that matters. What matters is how desperately needy or desperately grateful we are when we pray it. In other words, when we pray it because all we really want to say is: “Help me help me help me!” or “Thank you thank you thank you!”
In other words, I think we say it best when we pray it without commas.
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “When was the last time you prayed without commas–that is, out of desperate need or desperate gratitude? Probably your best prayer ever!” Think about it, and if you wish, share a thought, a feeling, or a question. Or, how about posting your favorite prayer to share it with us?
(image: cover of Traveling Mercies)