This week, I’ve been talking a lot with others about prayer. About who we are praying for, and what, and how, and why. About the enormity of the problem around us and throughout our world, and how helpless we feel, and scared and frustrated.
It’s been hard to know what to say, exactly. To them, or to God in my prayers.
And so I have gone back to an old standby of mine, a little volume called Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott. It has gotten me through more than one hard season, by giving me words to pray when I didn’t have any, and reflections that read like poetry, telling me why sometimes even one word is all the prayer I need.
I thought I would tell you today about “help,” because that’s the prayer that it seems like this pandemic demands.
Help, I’m afraid for my loved ones. Help, our hospitals are filling up. Help, we don’t even know who has COVID-19, and who is spreading it, and how the number of cases will increase going forward. Help, I miss and long for my family but I can’t see them right now, for their safety and mine. Help, I can’t gather with my community, who would normally help me get through this. Help, doctors and nurses are putting themselves in harm’s way every day and we need them and fear for them and there aren’t enough of them. Help, we’re running out of masks and ventilators. Help, people are dying.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is a time for all three of Anne’s prayers.
This is a time for “wow,” too. Wow, as Anne writes, “is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction, of a sudden unbidden insight or an unexpected flash of grace. ‘Wow’ means we are not dulled to wonder. We click into being fully present when we’re stunned into that gasp, by the sight of a birth, or images of the World Trade Center towers falling, or the experience of being in a fjord, at dawn, for the first time. ‘Wow’ is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes.”*
Wow is for the good times and the bad – whatever astounds us and puts our lives into perspective.
And so I am praying “wow” a lot these days.
Wow, we are all so much more connected than we realized. Wow, people all over the world are showing up to help each other, to care for the elderly and the sick, to go to the grocery store and deliver medicine. Wow, schools are still finding ways to feed kids two meals a day. Wow, teachers are moving their entire classes online and spending tireless hours reworking lessons to fit. Wow, we really do need each other.
Finally, this is still a time for thanks. I tell people a lot about my gratitude journal, a little list of three items every day that I can still be thankful for – and how the days when I least feel like writing are the days I need to the most. This season is no exception.
Thanks, God, for Zoe; this little rescue dog who turned my life upside-down in the best way, but who is my constant companion and comfort these days. Thanks, for reliable internet and ways to connect with others through Zoom, Facetime, Skype, text, calls, email. Thanks, for signs all around me of spring on its way (See also: wow; resurrection always comes whether or not we get to gather for Easter this year).
Thanks, for this community of faith that I can feel around me even when we can’t be together.
If you have the words to pray right now, then by all means use them. But if you don’t, may these be a comfort to you. May you use them as I have, and find that three little words are more than enough.
*Lamott, Anne. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.