Pray As you Can, Not As You Can’t

I am some one for whom prayer is an organic practice. I continue to teach people how to pray. Yet in these past weeks, I have been stopped short by my body, and my mind and spirit have come tumbling after. I am participating with health care givers in my healing of back and leg pain with medication, physical therapy, and attempts to be patient. Between my physical discomfort and my medicinal medical haze, I can’t sustain and practice prayer the ways I with which I am familiar. But I so want to keep connected with the Holy One, the Mystery We Call God!
I remember how helped and stretched I was when I encountered a book (now out of print, I believe) called Pray As You Can, Not As You Can’t by Jean Gill, a spiritual director and retreat director. In this book which is an invitation to prayer, she invites the reader to discover the modes and styles of praying that fit one’s own journey and to stay with those, while learning to open one’s heart mind and body to the One who loves us more than we are capable of loving ourselves, while letting go the oughts and shoulds of prayer one may have been taught. I think of what the book of Romans tells us about the work of the Spirit which intercedes with sighs too deep for words, when we can’t pray. So I reactivate the very simplest prayers I know how to offer:

  • I plant myself in the arms of the Mother God and quiet myself–I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. (Psalm 131: 2)
  • I call up each person’s face and touch that I have experienced during the day, each e-mail, phone call, greeting and I give thanks, and ask for blessing: I thank my God every time I remember you. (Phil.1;3)
  • I give myself once again to the healing of God’s world, in whatever ways the Spirit is at work in me, through me, around me: Loving God, here I am!
  • I align myself with those who suffer all over the world, who have no reason to hope or to look ahead or to trust, maybe even without the capacity to know and to understand the depth of their distress–the poor, the lonely, the vulnerable, the grief-stricken–those without any power or status: God in your mercy, you hear our prayer.
  • At last, I pray with those whom Jesus touched in the gospel stories: God, if you choose, you can make me well

I am far from my regular practice. I cannot focus or concentrate on prayers longer than a phrase. I am off center. Yet I trust and believe that I am heard and loved by the One who knows me by name and is work in me for my wholeness. And for awhile, there is peace and comfort. Until I am invited back into those simple practices that I can offer again.

About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who writes on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture, and what is happening in the world--hers, her neighborhood, the Church and the world. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.


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