The whole phrase, though politically incorrect today, is “keep it simple, stupid.” The K.I.S.S. theory . . . I know it well. Having graduated college and heading off for seminary it was the first embroider picture my mother ever gave me . . . she said as a reminder. She wanted me to remember that I shouldn’t make life more difficult than it had to be. It was good advice, but not the easiest to follow. Sometimes it was my fault, other times it was just the fault of having to live life. Whatever the case, the truth still rings today (and, any day for that matter) . . . keep it simple.
Though I have not yet mastered the art of keeping things in life simple, I have come to see that it has worked well in other areas of my life. One of the areas that it has worked best for me has been in the area of prayer . . . by keeping it simple; prayer is a constant practice in my life. By keeping it simple, I seem to be able to prayer more frequently and with more impact. By keeping it simple, God seems to appreciate it more. It works for me.
I have always felt that prayer is simply communication . . . a conversation . . . between God and me. It is just two ol’ buddies talking. I can tell God anything and, God can tell me anything. The problem is one of us listens better than the other . . . I will let you guess which one of us that is . . . and, it is not God. But, the bottom line is that it is a two-way form of communication that involves one speaking, one listening, and sharing together. Pretty simple.
The truth is that it has not always been that simple. The fact of the matter is that there are as many ways to pray as there are people praying. There are lots of proven methods out there . . . are pastoral prayers . . . centering prayers . . . petition prayers . . . contemplation . . . rosary prayers . . . lectio divina . . . adoration prayers . . . the “Oh my God, I need it” prayers . . . and, the list could go on and on and on. Trust me; I know . . . I have probably dabbled in all of them at one time or another. Plus, what I don’t know, the wife will tell me about as she belongs to a spiritual direction group that . . . studies prayer. With all the sorts and types and forms of prayer floating around there, it is difficult to keep one’s prayer life simple.
For a long time I used a form for most of my prayers . . . A.C.T.S. This acronym stands for: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Someone told it was very biblical, but I liked it because I could remember it. Adoration . . . admiring the Holy. Confession . . . admitting shortcomings and sins. Thanksgiving . . . giving thanks for blessings and gifts of life. Supplication . . . the reminded to do the Holy’s work . . . that prayer is not just about me. With this acronym I blazed through many years and countless prayers . . . but, is it simple? I don’t know, in public it worked, but in private it was a little redundant. Plus, I think God probably wished that I had just numbered the prayers since God had heard them all before . . . now, that would have simplified things a whole bunch. The truth is that this was not really prayer, if I truly believe that prayer is a two-way conversation between God and me. Seems I was doing all the talking, and God was doing all the listening. Not much of a conversation.
A while back I came across a book by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. This simple, little book is about prayer . . . its title is Help, Thanks, Wow—The Three Essential Prayers. Now I know that Anne Lamott is not everyone’s favorite writer as she has a tendency to shake up the traditional understanding of faith with some profane observations and words. But, she must be doing something right as her books are often bestsellers read by millions. This book is her response from admirers of her other books to actually delve into some of her spiritual practices . . . like prayer. This little book is her response to that request . . . and, I take it, not one she was too thrilled about writing as it is pretty personal and simple. In the scheme of heavy hitting theologians, I think she felt it was too simple . . . far removed from the spiritual classics that came before. Nevertheless, she put it out there and it is a good primer for simplifying prayer.
She writes that all of her prayers come down to three things: Help . . . prayers that seek the Holy’s help; Thanks . . . prayers that acknowledge the Holy’s presence in life and the blessings and gifts that it brings; and, Wow . . . prayers that stand in awe of the Holy, the Holy’s presence and, often go beyond words. As far as she is concerned, those three prayers pretty much cover her conversations with God. Get that? Conversations with God. I liked this . . . like A.C.T.S., this was something that I could remember. For the past couple of weeks, during that time of community prayer within the Sunday worship service, I have been using this form of prayer. In all honesty, it has been freeing . . . more open . . . more honest . . . and, gets to the point. It is simple.
Now, I am sure that there are those out there who are going to jump all over this idea of simplified prayer . . . that it is too simple . . . that it is forgetting something . . . that it isn’t deep enough, holy enough, wordy enough, or even, enough. Oh well, I did say that there are as many forms of prayer as there are people who pray . . . and, all of them work for those praying. Who says we all have to pray the same way? I am all for keeping it simple. Because of that I like the idea of prayer jars . . . write the prayer on a piece of paper, stick it in a jar, and let God have it. I like the idea of a prayer wall that I read about in The Secret Life of Bees . . . instead of a jar, the prayers were stuck in cracks in an old stone wall out in a field. Prayer should be simple . . . simple enough that God understands me, and I understand God. That we talk. That we listen.
Even though others might not know when God and I are having a conversation . . . that I am in prayer, God knows. Sometimes they are formal requests, sometimes wordless requests. Sometimes they follow a form, other times they represent incoherent ramblings . . . but, God gets it. Sometimes they are profane and angry prayers . . . but, God understands. Sometimes they are simple acknowledgements of the one word kind, like, WOW! God understands. I know that God listens and responds . . . God’s presence surrounds me like the air that I breathe . . . it is an awareness, though sometimes stuff in the back of my mind and day, that always comes rushing back . . . God is with me. Always with me.
Sometimes the simplest prayer we can say is “Amen.” I think that would make my mother proud.