Richard Beck offered a few reflections on prayer this morning that resonate with my own experience and practice. Prayer doesn’t come naturally to me either. I, too, have been “saved” by the discipline of a regular practice. I, too need a morning routine to reroute me from less productive ways of starting my days, whether it’s uncritically beginning to feed at the trough of the
entertainment news cycle or engaging in fruitless online discourse or whatever. I like what Beck says about how the way we “imprint” our day matters. If the first thing I reach for in the morning is my phone or my laptop, my heart and mind begin to be shaped in ways that are deeply unhealthy.
So, I, too, try to cultivate better practices. My habit lately has been to rise early, make a pot of coffee, light a candle, grab my bible, prayer book and prayer beads, and begin the day in a quieter space, with better words. It’s not magic, of course. My mind drifts. My prayers occasionally seem lethargic and lifeless. Sometimes the words seem mechanical. To combat this, I try to just sit in silence. Sometimes I’ll just stare at a little olive wood carving of Christ on the cross that I picked up in Bethlehem earlier this year. Staring at Jesus is a good cure for most every ill. I try to spend at least half an hour this way. At the very least, it’s time that my brain is not occupied in the frantic ways that tend to become my default without this discipline.
One of the readings I encountered in prayer this morning was Psalm 19. I was struck in a new way by verses 12-14:
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
Someone (I forget who at the moment) once said that we don’t simply read the Psalms; the Psalms read us. How very true. There is a spiritual and psychological awareness and honesty to these verses that digs into our souls in uncomfortable ways. We don’t tend to see our own blind spots very well. That’s kind of why they’re called blind spots. We’re quite good at sniffing out the errors of others. Our own? Not so much. We have too much invested in not discerning these errors. Too much of our own pride and self-sufficiency, too much of our own identity is tied up in not facing these errors honestly. And then of course there’s the dead ends that we quite willfully and cheerfully blunder down. These are easier to spot but at least as hard to change. And gradually, the sin that we hate but cannot leave begins to rule over us.
It’s not exactly a pleasant reading of our souls, but it is a necessary one.
And what can we do but ask but plead for forgiveness?
Forgive me, O God, from the sin that I am too invested in ignoring, from the sin that I willfully chase after. Rule over me instead, for the rulers that I choose are thoughtless and cruel and care little for my soul. Gift me anew with the hope of innocence.