Where is the prayer for an ordinary day?

· Suffering,Prayer,Church

I’ve been looking for an ordinary prayer.

Let me give you some background.

When I use the psalms in teaching ethics, I refer to Walter Brueggemann. What remains true across the psalms, he claims, is that they are prayers uttered to God by individuals or communities. Whether spoken or sung, they are worth repeating. And they remind us of both the history and present reality of our relationships with God, one another, and the world around us.

Brueggemann divides the psalms into three types. First, there are psalms of orientation. These prayers praise God, reflecting satisfaction with the order of creation. All is right with the world and God deserves to be thanked and honoured. Then there are psalms of disorientation. A crisis has occurred and the person or group praying has no where else to turn but God. So, the psalmists convey profound suffering, dissatisfaction, despair, and lament. Finally, there are psalms of new orientation or reorientation. These psalms aren’t replications of psalms of orientation; their writers know that suffering can be unavoidable. But God has broken into suffering, showing that it is possible to live a good life while suffering. Our faith in God’s presence helps us learn how to be well while we suffer – to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.

In Suffering Well and Suffering With, I make a plea that churches embrace psalms of disorientation (which, by the way, constitute 40% of the psalms). If we spent more time in these psalms of lament, we could learn how to talk to a God who not only permits but asks us to be frank in our prayers, no matter the circumstance. We could become better versed in a practice that helps us suffer well when we must suffer. And we could learn words to say when we accompany someone deep in suffering. As a post-Christendom church enters its own time of suffering, we need lament more than ever.

Brueggemann’s typology represents three kinds of experiences that are notable for being high or low. Satisfaction – High! Suffering – Low! Wisdom – High! But do they represent the whole of life? Do they reflect all the circumstances in which we find ourselves? My life has been punctuated by highs and lows. But most of the time, my days are pretty normal. Ordinary.

So where are the “normal” prayers for ordinary days?

Even the liturgical calendar accounts for “Ordinary Time.” Granted, Ordinary Times fall after the times the church considers worthy of being named: Advent and Christmas, and Lent and Easter. Put differently, Ordinary Times include any time not directly related to the birth or death or resurrection of Jesus – seasons that are high and low and high again. Ordinary Times are just ordinary. But they exist!

This problem reminds me of a quote from a teen romcom (one that deserves more credit than it is given):

Of course we can be whelmed! (According to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, the use of “whelm” to describe a state between overwhelm and underwhelm is a fairly recent development in the English language.) Still, we rarely say the word “whelm.” Perhaps a normal experience isn’t worth describing. Perhaps an ordinary time isn’t worth naming. Is that the reason I can’t find any psalms that are just for normal, ordinary days? Times of being whelmed?

In my search, I have thought of The Book of Common Prayer, which points to high, low, and slightly more ordinary events. Still, I want evidence that common, normal, ordinary prayers were prayed by the writers and characters of scripture. When I have asked others for suggestions, they have pointed me to psalms and other portions of scripture that address what it means to experience contentment – often contentment with what we have. For example,

Trust in the Lord and do good;

live in the land and enjoy security. (Psalm 37:3, NRSVUE)

Mostly, scripture writers explain that we should be content. Or they teach us how to be content. Don’t lust after things that don’t belong to you, and so on. I can’t find a psalm that expresses a time or experience of contentment. But then, perhaps contentment is not the right word to describe what I’m looking for when I say I want a prayer for a normal, ordinary day.

I want a prayer like this:

Hey God. It’s been an okay day. Thanks for being here and giving me what I have. [Insert normal, ordinary details here.] On the whole, I know I can do better. But I don’t think I’ll have any problem sleeping through the night. See you in the morning.

This is a prayer for those ordinary times when I’m called to praise God’s characteristic faithfulness and provision. To thank God for divine love and protection. To ask for forgiveness and seek advice on how to love my hard-to-love neighbour.

Wait a minute. I think I’ve found my ordinary prayer.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)

We call it the Lords Prayer. But it doesnt belong to Jesus. It is a prayer Jesus has given to us.

The Lords Prayer takes into account the normal, ordinary dailiness of our lives. And it teaches us how to express that normal, ordinary dailiness. The daily recognition of who God is. The daily desire for God’s kingdom to be fully present. The daily discipline of living out God’s will. The daily gratitude for receiving what we need today. The daily request for forgiveness. The daily confession of our need to forgive others. The daily ask of God to keep us close and alert us to times when we might (intentionally or unintentionally) fall into evil.

Whats more, this prayer calls us to look beyond what we have experienced over an ordinary day. It points not only to earth but also to heaven. It reminds us of the history and present reality of our relationships with God, one another, and the world around us. And the more we recite it – the more we learn it “by heart” – the more we are reminded of these things. Perhaps this is why we repeat it in weekly worship.

And when I join my voice with others in repeating it in weekly worship, I am reminded of something else. I dont think that Jesus is unintentional when he calls us to pray using first-person plural pronouns: Our Father. Give us. Forgive us. We forgive. Lead us. Deliver us. Even those parts that have no first-person pronouns (hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven) are spoken by the collective voice of community. We are created for community with one other, with creation, and with God. My day, whether high, low, or ordinary, is not just my own.

Yep. That’s it. A prayer for an ordinary day.

As a gift, here is my favourite way of singing the prayer Jesus taught us to pray – one that is sung weekly by the congregation with whom I worship.

*Composed by Chuck Kroeker, performed by The Journey Band of St. Mary’s Road United Church