Prayer after a Faith Transition


I remember sitting in my Community of Congregation for the first time. We were a brand new group, all Mormons and former Mormons. There were a few familiar faces and a bunch of unknown ones. The question “Why am I here?” kept running through my I head. I played new hymns at the piano and we all sang awkwardly. Seth Bryant, my new pastor, stood up and explained the Prayer for Peace, rang a little chime three times, lit a candle (my husband was horrified by this detail when I told him later), and read the Prayer for Peace.

The reading of written prayers was a new experience for me, as few prayers are standardized in the LDS Church. I’ve always been comfortable with spontaneous prayer, but I have learned that a well written and planned prayer can encompass all of the things that you want to communicate in a moment, but often can’t quite execute. When you are in grief or otherwise at a loss for words, written prayers can walk you through comforting language without having to generate that in the moment.

I used to think that if I said a prayer in the morning and a prayer at night, plus three blessings on food, and other needed prayers throughout the day, God would put a marble in a jar of good deeds and obedience on my behalf. I liked to pray, but I also felt that it helped me accumulate eternal reward points. Prayer also had the possibility of causing God to intervene in someone’s life if they needed it. After my faith transition, my concept of God doesn’t include a collection of marble jars measuring each person’s goodness. I believe that God may move us to act, but I don’t think that God stages interventions in our lives in the same way that I did before. All of this leaves the question surrounding the purpose of prayer in an unclear and confusing place. Perhaps the most important part of prayer is the way in which it can inspire us to act, to move us to change, and to create moments when we feel that connection to God.

In thinking about prayer, change of LDS Church leadership, and peace this past week, I wrote this:

A Prayer for Peace

Dear God,
We seek to know you
And feel your presence with us.
In our choices and actions,
May we be drawn toward the work of justice and peace
For as long as we sojourn in this life.
Bless us with moral courage,
And lead us into integrity and authenticity.
Help us to hold ourselves and our communities
Accountable for our words and actions,
And consider the policies, procedures, and laws we support.
Guide us to grace for ourselves and each other
That we may always use the privileges we hold
To the benefit of those without.
Move us to build communities founded on
Mutual respect, inclusion, and equity.
Help us to grow into better ways
Of knowing and doing and moving through this life.
Be with us, O God
And help us to live out your peace.
Amen.

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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4 Responses

  1. Violadiva says:

    I love your poetry. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Emily U says:

    That’s a beautiful, powerful poem, Nancy. I have a real appreciation for planned prayers as well. I like the immediacy of unplanned prayers in LDS life and worship, but as we all know it can be hard not to fall into empty repetitions with that, too (witness prayers over meals at my house). I wish LDS tradition had some of the beauty of prepared prayers like the one you wrote. I like that they often read a lot like poetry, and so they ask the reader, like poetry does, to slow down and listen.

    There’s a poem I love about composed prayers called “Borrowed Words,” I think I have it at home – I’ll try and post it later.

  3. Emily U says:

    Here it is: “Borrowed Words” by Steven Wright

    It is a justifiable theft
    This praying of borrowed words.
    My own words gave out years ago
    Like the wind when a ship hits the doldrums.
    I drifted
    Prayerless
    Until I learned to borrow words.

    Now the pleas of Heman and Soloman
    The plaints of Asaph and David
    Propel me on
    As they leap from my lips
    Heavenward,
    Carried by Christ.

    They were his words first,
    Borrowed by psalimists
    And borrowed back when
    Hanging on the cross he cried,
    My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
    Surely, my God,
    Thou wilt not forsake me
    If I borrow Thy words
    And offer them back to Thee.

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