Katie Snipes Lancaster
This world is a place of prayer. Prayer means seeking divine possibility while we navigate human impossibilities: life on the cusp of death, justice in the midst of injustice, strength in a time of weakness, a way forward when the path ahead has been obscured. To use Nicholas De Cusa’s words, God is posse ipsum: Possibility Itself. God enfolds us in all that might be possible, despite all that is impossible in human life. Prayer bears the futility and urgency of seeking to comprehend our incomprehensible God. Prayer celebrates the dynamic relationship between God and the created universe, and reveals the complexities of God who is ever-present, yet ever-absent and beyond. Prayer urges us to live attune to God who calls us ever forward into the impossible possibilities before us.
I have spent the last 10+ years writing prayers. As an associate pastor, instead of being charged with writing sermons, I have been asked to weekly bless the congregation, offering up to God the congregation's approximate hopes and dreams, worries and fears.
The practice of writing a congregational prayer was met by the ever expansive technological tools at our disposal, and I found myself able to text prayers to congregation members. Some technical shifts converged, like the ability to integrate iMessage onto my laptop (with a full keyboard), and the ability to access our database of cell phone numbers electronically (instead of the paper directory), and I could text a prayer that held specificity and therefore tenderness.
Yet, even the specificity and tenderness of prayers written for individuals left me longing for more. There was something still tugging me to find more and different words to approach God's throne of love. Seasonally, my prayer language would become stale (so I felt). For longer than I can remember, I have been drawn to books of prayer, but even consulting my large library of prayers throughout the centuries and across the globe began to feel too worn and well trod.
In early 2019, poet Mary Oliver died. Her poetry splashed across the pages of my life: reviews and obituaries, podcasts, scholarly articles, pastoral reflections. Every time I needed to write a prayer, I began to turn to her words to find a new way to speak to God. Soon, I found more meditative poets whose words lifted me toward God.
In the summer of 2019, I spent 100 days writing 100 prayers connected to 100 poems by 100 poets (June-September 2019). Each prayer is accompanied by a verse or phrase from the daily lectionary, rooting prayer in the global ecumenical practice of reading a common set of scripture daily, and buoyed by the language of poets.
Inspired by the #100daysproject, I then participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): a global writers group that challenges individuals to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Typically those 50,000 words are a first draft of a novel. Instead of writing a novel, I wrote 50,000 words on the question, "What is prayer?"
Having surprised myself in the task of writing 50,000 words on the question, "What is prayer?" I then spent the following months avoiding writing projects entirely and took up watercolor painting as a prayer practice. My instagram account below documents this prayer journey (from 2019).