Poem Prayers

At Holden Village, the Lutheran retreat center where my family has lived for over five years, we join together in worship every day. As a result, we are able to explore a variety of styles and formats of worship services. One of these forms is ‘praying the headlines.’ Essentially, someone reads a few headlines about things going on in the world—both abroad and at home. In between each headline, we sing a verse of a hymn or a chant, for example ‘Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.’ I found this practice very meaningful. For one thing, given our remote location and limited contact with the outside world, it was a reminder of what was going on outside our little valley. But it was also a way of sitting in prayer together for the world, for the country, for the state, for our valley, for people near and far.

This month, a dear friend from Holden has started a website called This Week in Poetry in which she posts poems centered around a headline in the news. It’s a way to focus in on what’s happening right now in the world and an effort to create poetry that speaks to what’s going on right now. Like our news headline vespers services, the poems others have submitted have drawn my attention to stories I would never have seen on my own. And I have found that writing my own poems for the site has become a form of prayer. Similar to the practice of praying in color, where drawing and embellishing around a person or word held in prayer is a way of focusing in on a prayer, writing these poems have been my way of simply spending time with the people or places I’m writing about and lifting them up for others to spend time with as well. And whereas my regular prayers often just turn into lists of things I’m thankful for or lists of things that I want to pray for, my poem prayers hold the emotions I feel while I’m dwelling in prayer on an issue—joy, anguish, outrage, pride, wonder, anger, tranquility.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines prayer as “a solemn request to God…a supplication or thanksgiving addressed to God.” But I don’t like that definition—it makes prayer sound stuffy and more like writing a legal document to God than anything else. Prayer can be so many more things than a solemn request—it can be a bubbling over of joy, a sharp jab of anger, a crushing load of questions, a quick check-in, a settling into silence, a splash of color. Prayer can be our poem to God.

Lord, listen to your children praying. Lord, send your spirit in this place. Lord, listen to your children praying. Send us love, send us power, send us grace.

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