As a child in school, I became a proficient reader—a skill I credit with much of my success in life. I also learned about learning styles and how to exploit my strengths over my weaknesses. For example, I do not learn well if I just listen and hear or if I speed-read something. I need to do something else to focus the learning into my mind permanently. In high school and university, that meant taking copious notes in every lecture, and spending time every evening transcribing my scribbles into an organized study guide. Over the years, I refined my methods of crafting summaries to meet my needs at the time. I called my practise “writing to learn.”
But I also write to pray. When I read or hear something that catches my thoughts—words of scripture or a hymn, a point from a sermon or a zoom talk, or a conversation or news item–I make a note. Often this is just a scribble on a random piece of paper that happens to be at hand. These notes find their way to a pile on my desk. The ritual of cleaning my desk every day calls me back to the ritual of writing to learn and writing to pray. I can pray without a script with confidence, but my method means that I am better prepared for it. I am always afraid I will ramble on.
When writing prayers, I take a lectio divina approach: reading what I have scribbled, several times, silently and aloud, slowly turning the words over in my mind. Sometimes I am prompted to look up what a word really means. I search for background and context. When my snippet is a Bible verse, I read the entire chapter of Scripture out loud a time or two. The words are a gift, and I feel the presence of God as I entertain them in my mind. Before long, my thoughts gather, and I start to write. I am rarely satisfied with my first draft, or even my second. Sometimes I set something aside to mull over for a while before I revisit and revise it. I write a lot! I hang onto everything, filing it away for future use. Periodically, I read through my journal to bring prayers back to mind. I often tell myself I need a better filing system, but where’s the fun in that? The process of rediscovery is useful to show how my prayer life is improving, and what I have learned since I last spoke those words with God.
I write these words not because I think this is the best or only way to construct prayers, but to share an insight to a process that works for me. I hope that, for someone, it may bring meaning and clarity to their own prayer life.
Deacon Nancy serves at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Caledonia