Praying for a new new

I can’t imagine you’ve noticed amid the various pandemics and meltdowns but I have not been on social media very much. I have been typing and to the surprise of some of my friends, typing prayers—enough to form a decent book. Maybe my best, actually, published by Stakeholder Press, my favorite community of thought and practice. You can find it on Amazon here. And I’ll be posting some of the prayers here, of course. Here’s a taste:

“Teach us to pray,” they asked Jesus, expecting instructions. He disappointed and annoyed, as usual. But two thousand years later almost anyone attending a funeral can mumble along with the handful of phrases he offered. We have also heard it in religious places by proper people with sonorous voices, so we miss it’s radical simplicity. He spoke Aramaic in which the prayer was stark, with no temple polish at all. This is what he said, paraphrased from Matthew 6:7-13 (God save me):

“Mother, father, sister, brother and friend, Who makes everything sacred, and all life possible,

we ask only enough for today.

Release the burdens of yesterday as we release the debts of those we have burdened.

Protect us from distraction and anything that is not of life. May it be.”

That’s it.
That’s all he said.
Doesn’t seem like quite enough.

It wasn’t his only prayer, of course. Most were even shorter. “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” And, “take this cup from me.” Sometimes he just wept for what the city did not know.

He prayed most eloquently with his life, as spiritual people do, full of healing and groaning and weaving. The life resonated with intimate knowing of those he met on dusty paths and marble palaces. He told easily remembered, vivid stories that tended to mock the powerful and gave hope to those they thought beneath them.

He healed so many people in so many unauthorized ways that it drove those in politics and religious power to kill him. What kind of healing gets one killed? It starts with a simple, honest, humbling presence before the ultimate; prayer without the presence or performance. There grows an ember of something more disruptive than our schemes, programs and gizmos. That kind of prayer opens space for clarity that untethers and propels. Who knows what happens next?

Praying is not the highest expression of spirit, just as writing is not the highest expression of thinking. Doing is where we integrate muscle and mind, sweat and spirit. But there is honor in word and voice as long as both serve; a cup of cold water or a visiting somebody in jail or the “good trouble” that gets one in jail.

You’ll notice that I capitalize God and You, when I turn toward the ultimate. I’m showing respect, but do not presume chumminess. I know a 14 billion year continuing explosive phenomenon is not a buddy.

But the spirit breathing through it seems closer to a “You” than an “it.” This book is not the one exploring the cosmological theology that difference implies. I’d like to read that book, but am not attempting to write it here. These are spiritual sketches, not hard- core systematic theology. I think it best to pray first.

Maybe we can pray together, you and me. I don’t mean by you reading my words.
I hope they trigger your own Spirit to find language from your life and labor. Maybe songs or
images. The pages that follow have some of my prayers. Because I am careful with words, some of them look like poems, laid out on paper that you can scan with your eyes. Voice would be much better; you could hear their tentative offering, my uncertainty seeking faith. They are sketches in spirit, which is why they are accompanied by sketches in pen by my friend Cagn Cochrane.

Better prayers are offered in sweat, not words. Spirit woven of broken threads into something new and useful for the world. That kind of doing is a kind of thinking, sometimes even a kind of praying where words come long after. You’ll find traces of that in these prayers typed and edited, but shared work would be better.

I hope we’ll get to pray that way someday.

May that be.
May we become part of what is trying to become.
Protect us from distraction from anything that is not of life.

That’s what I’m praying for.


Any profits from the book go to Stakeholder Health. You can buy the book on stakeholderhealth.org or on Amazon here. If you purchase on Amazon, please leave a decent review to lay down breadcrumbs for others to find the book. (Thanks!)

So many to thank, which I’ve done in the actual book, but have to acknowledge Cagn Cochrane for the illustrations, Jim Cochrane for design and edits. Tom and HK for making it happen. Stakeholder friends and Wake Forest colleagues. And, of course, TC, for pretty much everything. Oh, and Jesus (prayers, after all!).

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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1 Response to Praying for a new new

  1. Bill Davenhall says:

    Actually I was curious about your silence when I recently re-discovered a picture my father took of me at 13 years of age setting up my first beehive! I am surprised however that you think some of your friends could not believe you would write such a “payer” book – I would have though that it was very much in your wheelhouse – and since most of us need some serious practicle ideas on the subject of prayer. I’ll purchase it right away – as its never too late to try to teach an old “dog” a new trick. I’m game! Hope you and your family remain well.

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