‘I learned prayer was about connection to the holy in one another and the holy that was greater than us.’
I can be there in an instant. I feel again the tall buildings surrounding us and the snow falling against my face. I see the brick sidewalk and the bare tree limbs as their spiny fingers reached upwards, sometimes glinting with ice into the early morning gray haze. Memories of January in Chicago where I attended seminary. With me are three of my seminary classmates.
Every morning, prior to trudging through the snow to our daylong intensive classes, we would stop for a few moments on the stoop outside our lodging. Through Thinsulate gloves and knitted mittens we held each other’s hands. The circle completed, we would pause. And then one of us would begin to pray aloud.
Into the cold air from our warm breath our words turned to steam, our longings made visible. We’d share aloud goals, dreams, fears, wonder, and hurt related to our day-to-day lives, the ministry before us, and the events happening in our hometowns and across our country and the earth. When we ourselves or one amongst us felt lost amidst a personal transition or those we loved were in distress, our prayers served as grounding for strength or protective solace. When we were troubled, our prayers were angry, pleading, desperate. In times we were celebrating, our prayers were raucous in joy. Many days our prayers took on a combination of all these aspects as we witnessed for one another the joys and sorrows of our individual and shared life journeys.
If there was a place I nurtured my practice of spoken prayer it was on that stoop, in the winter freeze, surrounded by three people who to this day remain some of my dearest in my life and who know me most deeply. With them, I learned prayer was about connection to the holy in one another and the holy that was greater than us.
Through the spiritual practice of prayer I have become a better communicator, better listener, and better observer of the holy in all. Prayer first helped me better listen to the deep down still voice of my own desires. In articulating that voice aloud, I have come to better understand where I have come from and who I am.
Prayer also grounds me in who I am now and helps inspire me in who I wish to be. Prayer better equips me to sense more from the people in my life: my family and friends, those with whom I share a spiritual home, neighbors I meet in my local community. In turn that practice opens my awareness of those in less proximity: the people in the places I read or hear about in the media but have not visited, people I have met but I don’t know well, people with whom I long to build relationship and whose perspectives I seek to learn.
Prayer first allowed me to better believe in, accept, and love myself. In addition, it now provides me sustenance to grow and co-create loving relationship with others. Prayer has become a regular practice of sacred conversations leading me toward connection and hope.
How might you enter into that dialogue yourself?
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This essay is excerpted with permission from Conversations with the Sacred: A Collection of Prayers, edited by Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Jennifer Kelleher (Skinner House, 2020).
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The Rev. Jennifer Kelleher serves as assistant minister of Lifespan Faith Development and Pastoral Care at the UU Congregation of Princeton, New Jersey.