Prayers don’t have to be voiced aloud, or spoken in our thoughts for God to hear them. Paper and pen, or even computer and keyboard, can bring deeper meaning and enrichment to one’s prayer life.
Writing prayers does more than quiet distractions. It helps us “talk” more directly to God. We can release more thoroughly what is in our hearts, and commit it to our Creator. As thoughts and feelings flow on to paper, the action of writing actually generates additional reflections that can be expressed.
“Writing has the dynamic character of a movement into the unknown,” notes Joseph Schmidt in his book, Praying Your Experiences. “We can never be sure of what the writing might yield. When we take pen in hand we …open areas of…awareness that are deeper than we had imagined.”
Since praying is communicating with God, that presupposes dialogue rather than a monologue. “We need to be reminded that prayer involves listening perhaps more than speaking,” writes Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book, Who Needs God? “It involves opening ourselves to what God wants us to hear, in a setting purified of the noise and distractions of the every day world.”
Praying on paper becomes a conduit for God to reach our hearts and minds. “As our conversation continues we are startled by the truths that unfold,” notes Schmidt, in describing writing one’s prayers. “Significance and awareness reach a clarity that we had not realized consciously before.”
In writing our prayers our hearts open and we give God time to show us what we already have. We not only see more clearly our concerns, pain and desires, but also God’s response to them.
By consistently writing prayers, we gain insight into our real selves. “We write more than we are fully conscious of… Under our pen emerge reflections and insights …which we had not articulated before,” notes Schmidt.
During one twelve-month span there were four deaths in our family, two within a month of each other. Much of my grieving for my older sister, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and her husband was done through prayer writing. One of my prayer journal entries during that time shows me how I thought that in grief I had to be “strong” and “insightful for the benefit of others. I wrote: “Dear God, I want to be so profound and say such grand things, and all I can say honestly, is I hurt. And I don’t think it should hurt so much, but it does.”
As we fill journals with our prayers, we gain self-knowledge and learn about God’s relationship with us. Our prayers on paper become a part of our spiritual autobiography.
Prayers often have more meaning when we write them rather than simply speak them. For instance, written prayers of gratitude, or “gratitude lists,” are powerful, and meaningful prayers.
“Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most people,” notes Rabbi Kushner. Thus, prayer shouldn’t be just an inventory of what we lack, “But a series of reminders of what we have, and what we might so easily take for granted, and forget to be grateful for.”
Gratitude lists can express thankfulness for all manner of things. For instance, we can thank God for:
• The fact we are alive, and have a mind that works and a body that works.
• Our home, jobs and other material blessings.
• The beauty around us, a glorious sunrise, colorful flowers.
• The blessing of good health for family and ourselves.
• Our friends and family.
• Being delivered from our fears.
Writing gratitude lists and prayers increases our joy, and keeps us sensitive to the good that fill our lives. Of all the prayers I’ve written the past few years, perhaps the most spiritually enriching have been prayers of forgiveness, especially prayers of forgiveness. For example, I grasped tightly to resentment and anger toward my father for his alcoholism and other behavior I saw as abusive. Some of my anger was righteous, much of it was exaggerated. He has been dead since 1987, and I finally realized that to grow spiritually I had to forgive him.
Not knowing how to do it, I wrote prayers simply asking God for the grace to forgive, and to show me how to do it. And He did. I was led to write a “Litany of Forgiveness” for my father. That, however, wasn’t enough. I needed to thank my father, too, for the good influences he had been responsible for in my life. I felt God tell me I not only had to forgive, but also to bless my father.
My “Litany of Forgiveness” and my “Litany of Gratitude” were written over several days. Here are a few words of that litany of forgiveness:
For the times you drove drunk with my mother, sister and me in the car--I forgive you. For the times you were physically and verbally abusive to me--
I forgive you. For the times you belittled me in front of others--I forgive you.
The Litany of Gratitude had numerous prayers also, including:
For always providing a home, clothes, food to eat and a bed of my own when I was growing up—Thank you. For my parochial school education—Thank you. For teaching me about tools and how to use them—Thank you.
A special advantage to writing our prayers is we can literally keep what we pray, and re-read it when we want to. We can share our prayers with others when appropriate. My Litanies of Forgiveness and Blessings were read to a trusted friend who I knew would understand not only what I was doing, but its significance, too.
What was the result of my litanies? A sense of releasing of my father, letting him go, and for me freeing and releasing the anger and resentmentI had held tight and close for so many years.
“Something miraculous happens when people come…seeking the presence of God,” says Rabbi Kushner. “The miracle is we often find it.” And writing prayers can help us more quickly enjoy that miracle.
Our prayer life can be enriched with prayer writing. Our knowledge of God’s part in our lives, His will for us and our self-knowledge grows deeper, too. These things happen, ultimately, because writing our prayers brings us to strong, intimate contact with two special persons—God and ourselves.
Richard Bauman is author of several books: Awe-Full Moments: Spirituality in the Commonplace; It Made a Difference to that One; Holy Humor—If This is Church, Why are we Laughing? and Pranks in Print. All are available at www.richardjbauman.com.