Photo credit to malvernretreat.com
by Sister Edith Bogue, O.S.B.
What? An article about prayer in The Cable? By a sociology professor? How did that happen?
Welcome to the first Ask a Sister About... column. No, theology class is not sneaking into The Cable. This column is your chance to ask those questions you've always wondered about, and hear how one Benedictine sister would answer them.
Why did I pick prayer for a first topic? Because students ask interesting questions around my prayers at the start of class. Because I write prayers for events on campus. Because prayer is a key part of being Benedictine.
What counts as prayer? Is it really prayer if you read it from a book? If you made it up yourself? If you recite something you memorized? All of these CAN be prayer - a conversation, an encounter with God - and "count" as prayer if you have that intention. On the other hand, when we just go through the motions, things can look like prayer but not really have much chance of encountering God. (Have you ever realized that the person on the other end of the phone was really just saying "uh-huh" while watching a movie or working on the computer? NOT a conversation!)
I say a lot of spontaneous prayers in the course of a day. Anne Lamott wrote a book about the three essential prayers: Help! Thanks! Wow! I need a few more: "Why?" and "Forgive me." In my quiet time each day, my prayers are longer - a real conversation, not an SMS or a tweet.
Benedictines pray the psalms - the prayer book of the Hebrews in ancient times that are prayed to this day by Jews and by Christians. The psalms express all the human experiences and emotions and bring them into conversation with God. Their language infuses and shapes our thinking. Other memorized prayers - traditional, written by saints, written in modern times - enrich our prayer lives.
Why do the Sisters ask God to smite their enemies? I thought you were for peace. This question took me by surprise, but the person who asked it is right. We do pray the cursing psalms. Right in the middle of Psalm 69, for example, are the words "Make their eyes so dim they cannot see; keep their backs ever feeble." That's graphic - a poke in the eyes and a kidney punch. Where's the peace? When we pray those psalms, we think of the people without food, victims of violence, refugees. Our prayer is in solidarity with them.
How do you pray out loud with people who have different beliefs? This happens a lot in our multicultural society. I try to find the common ground, the hopes that unite us and things for which we can all give thanks, and pray for those things.
What should I do if someone says a prayer I don't agree with? Sometimes a person sneaks a political or ideological opinion into a public prayer. For the sake of unity (and following St Benedict's instruction not to grumble), I usually say a silent prayer that we both grow in knowledge and understanding.
What questions could we ask? I would love to receive questions about the Benedictine perspective and way of life - and how it can be applied to the lives of college students and everyday people. I will try to answer any questions I can. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.