Relearning Prayer


Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn  -Mumford and Sons


The concept conjures up a variety of assumptions…formulas, requests, thanksgiving, an old man judging, desperate pleas, fear, expletives, impossible.

I will not presume to know what Mumford and Sons meant by the above prayer, but they touch a deep place within, where the cries for eyes to serve and hands to learn. It is a call to seeing things differently, taking things out of the box of expectation and make a shift. My paraphrase, “Please keep the earth below my feet, for all of this effort, my blood is running weak. Please protect me so I may gain wisdom from where I’ve been…to learn and serve in new, unexpected ways.”

The longer I walk this earth, the more I realize prayer is infinite. Infinite ways to express oneself, infinite gods/spirits/saints/people to direct prayer to, infinite forms, infinite paths. I have come to believe and accept both God and prayer hold no bounds…at least not any to which I am privy.

Formerly, I operated with the false idea that I was required to follow a special formula or plan for prayers to be valid and heard. I wrote most of my prayers for decades to still distraction. Train of thought was instantly lost upon closing my eyes. I have spiral notebooks dated and filled with longing, thanksgiving, identifying with God (or trying to). The practice was essential, a way to write and organize, to empty. I firmly believe I was met, the Holy Spirit with me.

As of late, my views on prayer have changed. Instead of filling time and space with words, I long to shed the notion that my performance matters. Many days I sit in the dark silence, meditative, quieting body and mind…some days successful, in my view, some not. I know God is present, and the importance is placed in showing up, not in having the perfect words or experience.

Also, I am expanding my definition of what qualifies as prayer:

a candle in a window

yelling and doubling over on a hike, painfully grieving

clinking frothy beer mugs, in celebration

laughing hysterically over nothing remarkable

laying awake at night fearing the worst


walking along tree covered paths, gazing upwards, noticing the contrast between branches, sky and cloud

a random conversation, leaving me breathless over the Beauty

frying up fresh eggs

an apology, a “Will you forgive me, I’m so sorry!”

remembering  the needs, reflecting throughout the day

laying facedown on the carpet, uttering words, heart hopeful and terrified

making a meal, assembling with love

I know some moments require traditional prayer, for my own soul and mind, to express the words, to spell out the need. I must lay the concern down, for it is too much to handle, too much to hold.

Other moments, I need my people, my children, my husband, my friends. We need to be together in prayer, beseeching. Sometimes, on a run, words in time to breath, tears mixing with sweat. Sometimes, holding a child, fingers detangling hair or scratching a back, words spoken…or not. Sometimes prayer is a conversation with God, as if I’m having lunch with my husband….meandering, stuttering, reflecting.

Let us not not pray for fear of perfect performance. Let us pray according to what is called for in the moment. Let us pray around distractions, letting them in, persisting regardless. Let us pray in the urgency and need, let us pray all wrong. Let us pray outside ourselves, ultimately knowing the abundance in and around, inviting us to lay down our pride and ego to enter onto the wing of the unknown but All-Knowing.

May we give ourselves permission to use words or not, to use only one word…maybe,  “Help!” “Thanks!” or “Wow!” according to Anne Lamott.

The key element is trust, trust in our emotions, our senses being led by Someone greater, to learn, to wait, to feel, to know. Some things are beyond our understanding, and may never make sense.

Prayer unites us with the generous and always loving heart of God, who adores His/Her children and gathers us together in peace.

One thought on “Relearning Prayer

  1. Jen, your writing so often reminds me of the poetry of Pulitzer Prize winner, Mary Oliver:

    Mary Oliver

    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    The one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
    I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
    How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    Which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    With your one wild and precious life?

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