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The Theater of Prayer

For best performance of a recycled prayer that you’ve heard so many times that we all can complete the cobbled together and trite phrases, the Academy Award goes to…

For months now, my church has been offering daily morning prayers throughout this second year of COVID-19. I call in and participate up to four times per week sometimes. It is a magnificent way to begin the day, lifted, thankful, and ready to tackle another day.

Prayer should be one of the most intimate times we share with God to offer praise and to worship and to present our true selves. Our daily prayers are led by one of the many ministers from church, each tasked with the weighty duty of guiding our collective hearts and minds for sometimes up to 20 minutes, getting the sometimes more than 300 persons gathered telephonically from across the Washington metropolitan region, across the country, and the globe to become unified in thought around our trying times, express thanksgiving for the grace and blessings that we undeservedly receive, seek peace amidst the growing chaos of our politically and socially unstable times , and to lean in on hope that today will be better than yesterday and that future generations will make us proud by turning this thing around.


As in anything, some ministers are better at performing duties than others, but prayer should not be a performance. I am dreadful at leading corporate prayer, whether it is leading grace over a meal with many gathered, or to close out a meeting to offer everyone in attendance the Lord’s cover as we separate and move about to the next tasks in our lives, but I’ve never performed a prayer. When I’ve stumbled and bumbled a prayer out loud it was because the genuine expressions of my heart were slow to form words on my lips and because of that staccato rather than smooth rhythmic verse, I hope that the authenticity of my prayer resonated with others and reached God. This past week I was annoyed by the almost theatrical performance of prayer – prayer that used stage voice, prayer that raggedly stitched together common and expected clichés, trite utterances that we’ve heard from our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers when they bowed their heads. I left the call that morning before prayer was completed. I should have and could have been bigger than that, but just like you can tell when a preacher mimics the unmistakable voice and cadence of MLK, Jr. when delivering a sermon or when a less senior minister that hasn’t yet defined themselves imitates the voice and style of a senior pastor, it is obvious, at least to some of us.


My mother used to say that she didn’t like it when preachers preached the lyrics of hymns. To her it seemed like laziness from the person that God gives such an influential and life-affirming responsibility and a platform to reach so many. To me, prayer is the same. Lead me from your heart. Reach me with your voice. Find and use your words. I would prefer that we stumble together through prayer with me mentally sharing the angst of you finding the right word for that moment than sit through a lackluster performance of prayer.

…and the winner is…

You shouldn’t want to win this award, nor is it an honor just to be nominated.

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