Flipping Patterns

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

One of my favorite stories that my mom used to tell is about when she was trying to make a dress. She laid out the fabric on the table and pinned the pattern to the fabric. She carefully cut out each piece, but she was having trouble with the dress sleeves. She kept getting two left sleeves. Regardless of how she positioned the pattern on the fabric, she always got the same result – another left sleeve. Finally, my sister, a preschooler at the time, suggested that she turn the pattern upside down. It worked! She got a right sleeve. My mom was a very intelligent woman – she just wasn’t a seamstress.

Working with patterns is how we learn many things. Prayer, for example. Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, and he gave them a pattern that we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father.” It has become a pattern for prayer that’s repeated weekly, or even daily, around the world. In my church, everyone in the congregation holds hands and sings the prayer together every Sunday morning.

When I was in eighth grade and taking classes to be confirmed as a Methodist, we were taught a variation of the Lord’s Prayer pattern to use when we prayed. It was a basic outline for personal prayer:

1)      Praise God and thank God for all the blessings I’ve received;

2)      Confess my sins and ask for forgiveness;

3)      Pray for the needs of others;

4)      Pray for my own needs.

(At least that’s the way I remember it.) I recall serious discussions about whether reading a prayer was actually praying, or if it needed to be completely personal and spontaneous to count with God. (Reciting or singing the Lord’s Prayer was an exception to the spontaneity rule.)

Marian playing BaldwinOver the last 50 years or so, I’ve tried several different prayer patterns. One of my favorite ways to pray is to sit down at the piano, sometimes with a hymnal and sometimes with just the hymns in my mind, and talk with God through music.

The actor Kelsey Grammer described this prayer pattern as, “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you’re listening. Playing the piano allows you to do both at the same time.”

This year I’m trying a new pattern, using a prayer book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, by Edward Hays. The prayer book consists of four sets of morning and evening prayers, one set for each season. Each set includes a morning prayer and an evening prayer for each day of the week.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s morning’s prayer:

Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim… As a planetary pilgrim,
I marvel that I have traveled over a million miles in space since yesterday morning.
My personal journey this day will be small in distance,
but I pray that it will be significant and sacred in my drawing closer to you.
As the Earth turns toward the sun, I turn my whole self toward you, my God,
as I now enter into silent prayer.

Period of silent prayer or meditation

Your Word is written large across all the universe,
in the wonders of creation and in holy books,
written by the pen of your Spirit.
Open my heart to your Word as I now pray.

A psalm, spiritual reading, or personal prayer
[Note: I’m working my way through a new hymnal in this part.]

May this morning prayer and all my prayers this day
be one with all this Earth, which you have ordained to prayer…

I dedicate this new day to you and ask that as spring unfolds before me
I may unfold according to your ancient dream.
As I reflect upon my personal needs this day,
I ask this blessing:_______________________

I ask that you look upon my work this day
as a sacrifice performed in solidarity with __________________
who is (are) in need of your grace and assistance.

Imprint upon my body, and upon all that I shall touch,
your sacred signature as I conclude this prayer
in your holy name
and in the name of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever, ages without end.
Amen.

Personally, I’m finding this more structured prayer pattern very refreshing this year, and a nice complement to my “piano prayers.” It’s kind of like Edward Hays has suggested that I flip the pattern over to learn new ways of talking with God. Just as my mom finally got all the pieces together for her dress, I’m slowly getting more of the pieces together for learning how to pray.

Philip Yancey, a prolific evangelical author, said it this way, “For me, prayer is not so much me setting out a shopping list of requests for God to consider as it is a way of ‘keeping company with God.’”

“Keeping company with God” – that’s something worth learning how to do! I’m thankful for patterns to help me learn how to “keep company with God.”

Lords Prayer

 

 

7 thoughts on “Flipping Patterns

  1. Great post! Anna’s very excited to see the picture at the top, as it looks like this is the doll she inherited from Grandma Nancy. The doll is now missing a leg and has many chips, but it’s her favorite.

    • Yes, Anna. That is the same doll. I rarely played with dolls when I was a little girl, but occasionally I played with this one. It was missing one leg when I played with it, too. Do the eyes still open and close? That doll has gone through a lot of love.

  2. I loved hearing about patterns in prayer. The patterns of learning is related to my educational research. Also, the 4-step pattern from your confirmation is very similar to what I learned as a pattern called “ACTS” where A=Acknowledge God; C=Confess; T=Thanksgiving; S=Supplication.

    • Sometime I would like to hear more about your educational research. I’m sure the role of patterns in learning and remembering things is more profound that most of us realize. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I’ve read the prayer plaque I got from A. Mary when she gave up housekeeping several times this Holy Week: Lord Help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t hand. — An old preacher’s prayer for each new day

    I find it comforting during this busy week in the life of the Church! Thank you for your weekly blogs, as I so enjoy them! Happy Easter!

  4. oops! Can’t type: Lord Help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t handle. My fingers are numb, I guess! Blessings!

    • Thanks, Laura, for reminding me of that good, old prayer. It’s a good one to remember every morning, but especially during busy weeks like Holy Week.

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