The baby woke up at 5 a.m. again. Sometime during the night, we fell asleep during a feed and so we are curled together in the white sheets still. She begins stirring and I wake up to her movements, she sees my face when she opens her eyes and breaks into a big toothless smile, waving her arms with delight. Her breath is so sweet. I think this might be one of my favourite parts of keeping her in our bed, her early morning smiles, her delight at waking up to my face. How can you help but wake up with a smile when a small baby is just so happy to see you?
Even if it is 5 a.m.
I love the mornings. Everything feels more possible and I feel clearer. I got dressed in my nicest yoga pants and brushed my teeth. We headed upstairs together quietly. I made a cuppa tea and laid her down on her little play mat. She’s trying to roll herself over already, it’s quite a lot of exercise. I sit down at our kitchen table and I pull out my Bible, my moleskine, my book of prayers. The steam from my mug curls upward to the ceiling. I sit down and I begin to read, jotting down verses as the Spirit illuminates them to me. I can’t always explain how this works but as I read the Bible, sometimes it feels like certain passages or words will take on a brightness to my eyes, an illumination, and I think, I need to write this down.
Writing things down is my way of remembering them. In my memory, I don’t remember phrases, I remember the sight of my own handwriting and the words that I wrote down so carefully. The light is breaking through the forest right now as the sun is rising. It’s a tangle of heavy dark green growth but as the sun breaks through the trees, certain pockets are illuminated with the sunshine. My eyes are drawn to those corners of the forest, to the leaves that are glowing with the light before me, even if it is just for a moment, disappearing as the sun continues to move up into the sky.
Sometimes I write the names of my four tinies and then I write down a few words from Scripture that corresponds with what I am praying over them. For the one who has struggled with feeling rested, I write that God has promised his beloved sweet sleep (Psalm 127:2), that their body and soul rest and confidently dwell in safety (Proverbs 3:24). For the one who is struggling with over-sensitivity, I write down the words of Ephesians 6:10, praying for them to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. I write the names of friends for whom I’ve promised to pray because even the act of scripting their names means I am praying somehow. I am carrying them for a while.
I made a promise to pray for one particular friend every single day of her pregnancy, this is how I did it: I wrote her name down and every day, I held her up to the Spirit and quietly prayed for peace, for strength, for joy, for wisdom, for all the big nouns to be gifts for her.
This morning, I underlined passages in my Bible and I sipped my coffee. I’m in Hebrews yet again and it’s perhaps no coincidence that I read these words today:
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
I haven’t purposely memorized a lot of Scripture, but it’s through me and in me anyways because its often the language of my prayers. I come boldly, bare-faced, to the presence of God, I’m not even sure what I’m expecting sometimes but I think I’m expecting something or Someone to show up, too.
I don’t have a lot of time before the tinies come stumbling down the hall, hair sticking up like rooster tails and yawning while already talking a mile a minute. This isn’t my only prayer time of the day, I tend to pray as I move through my day: in the Spirit, in my songs, with my hands, with my thoughts. My life doesn’t lend itself to hours of reflection and prayer: I snatch and scrabble for the moments of peace and intentional prayer.
One of the clearest memories during my childhood and my teen years is of my father doing this exact same thing. I remember being the one waking up early and wandering down the hall, coming upon him in his work clothes, sitting at the table with his Bible and his notebook or planner, quietly writing down our needs and writing down Scripture to guide his prayers for us.
So I still pray this way in the mornings, the words shape my prayers and shape me.
A bit of King James language for you: I believe that our prayers avail much.
I have had a complicated relationship with prayer. Sometimes I feel like no one is listening, other times I feel so clearly heard that I have to stop doing the talking and start listening. Sometimes my prayers are answered, other times they aren’t and I am deeply saddened by this. Sometimes I pray easily, other times I have no words and I am simply sitting in the presence of God, empty. But always Scripture shapes my prayers, the words and images, the metaphors and poems, the declarations and promises. And I keep praying because it’s my first language, the language of my spirit, connecting with Love.
I haven’t elevated the Bible into some fourth member of the Trinity and I believe Jesus reveals God, that the Bible is often a story of how wrong we’ve gotten our understanding of God and how Jesus came to clearly reveal the heart of the Father. If we want to know what God is really, truly like, we look to Christ first: the Scriptures testify to Jesus, not the other way around.
It’s hard not to have some baggage around this idea of Scripture informing my prayers. I had too much exposure to the band-aid version of prayer: have a need? apply a Bible verse! Poof! I saw the Bible abused in this way, but I also saw people abused by that belief, hurt and wounded and left wondering. If someone was hurting, “did you get the Word on that?” became an accusation. If you were praying properly, then surely your prayers would be answered, right?
I don’t know what I think about “how to pray” stuff anymore. I’m not one for formulas or guarantees or steps or acronyms. I guess I just don’t see God as some benevolent or malevolent deity in the sky, granting prayers like wishes, not anymore. I feel like prayer is mostly listening these days. Reading the Bible is another way of listening: what is the Spirit saying to us?
I’ve seen miracles through prayer though. I can’t deny this. And I believe with all of my being that God’s heart is for our wholeness and our healing, for our belovedness and for our salvation, for goodness and mercy to chase after us. So I pray in that direction and trust that it is enough, that we will be shaped into Christ’s own, that our feet will find the path of peace, that our hearts will be tuned to co-creation and abundance and joy and love. I stumble over promises of Scripture sometimes, they are too wonderful for me perhaps. Sometimes my prayers are filled with the words of praise, other times I’m praying with grief and brokenness, sometimes I’m angry and I believe God can handle it. More and more these days, my prayers are a resting with open hands, I receive these hours ahead as a gift, I receive what you have to give me, I am open, let’s sit down together here in the quiet.
So here I am, my father’s daughter, as the light breaks through the forest, writing down the names of my children and my husband, my friends and even the needs of the world like our brothers and sisters in Iraq or Haiti or Burundi, and beside these scrawled names, I am writing out the words of Scripture. Not like promises or talisman, not like magic spells, no. But to give language to what I yearn for, what I believe, and even what I hope. It’s my way of walking in the counsel of the Holy Spirit, may our hearts be fixed and established on Jesus.
My tea grew cold, I had to move the baby to her swing to keep her happy for just another fifteen minutes before she has to nurse again, everyone is up and the house is awake. I began to move through the breakfast and school rush, the pile of the Bible and the notebook and the prayer book on the table topped with a cheap ballpoint pen are an unremarkable sight to us all.
All I did this morning was begin the conversation for the day.