I’m very much a Baptist. At least that’s how I think of myself. Yet one of my current CPE classmates likes to joke that I’m a “bad Baptist” because I keep a condensed version of “Common Worship” on my desk and I regularly write out prayers.
So how does a Baptist come to appreciate liturgy? I think it started when a Chaplain of a similar denominational background to myself said, “You know God doesn’t hear those change of command prayers you write down. Those aren’t real prayers.” That really hit me hard. Why aren’t they real prayers? What makes a prayer a “real” prayer? Does a prayer have to be extemporaneous to be a real prayer? What if I pray the Lord’s Prayer or a Psalm?
So for me it started with the “aha” moment that written prayers are real prayers. Once I had that realization I started to put much more care into my written prayers. Even those that the Army would call a “ceremonial” prayer, like a change of command, I take seriously as an opportunity to seek God’s blessing upon incoming and outgoing leadership. I write each of those “ceremonial” prayers in a notebook that I keep and periodically I will flip back through it and pray for the names of the folks found in the pages.
Then as I started CPE and was looking for ways to process some of the difficult situations I have encountered and also to help me minister to the sick and dying I found myself looking at written prayers and liturgies from other Christian traditions as well as writing my own specific prayers. There is something freeing in knowing that if I encounter a situation where I might feel at a loss I could open the Common Worship book to help me find words to pray. Many of these prayers incorporate the words of Jesus or elements of the Psalms. I understand that I don’t have to verbalize a prayer as sometimes all one can do is “groan in the spirit” but when ministering to others it is often that spoken prayer that helps to bring comfort and closure so having a resource to help with that is invaluable.
It’s also been a humbling journey as I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit works in ways far beyond my limited understanding. The Spirit can offer comfort equally as well through a written prayer or an extemporaneous prayer. Sometimes I need the words of a written prayer to help give me a voice when I find a situation that is so breathtakingly heartbreaking that my own words seem inadequate and the words of Scripture or the written prayers of others help give the great internal churn of emotions a voice to express to God.
So if you sometimes wrestle with words to say or prayers to offer during the most challenging of circumstances it might not hurt to talk to a Christian friend from a more liturgical tradition and see what kind of resources they have. You might be surprised what you can learn from them that can help your ministry.