I was raised on prayer. Some of my earliest memories are praying at bedtime with my mother at my side: "God bless my sister, my brother, my dad . . . " right down to the names of the gerbils in their cage.
In church and at mealtimes, we were taught to pray spontaneously. If you had to use a "canned prayer," you weren't trying hard enough. It was an unspoken, Talk to God from the heart—tell him what's on your mind.
I had plenty to say. So this kind of prayer life served me well. Until my late thirties, when the words evaporated. I'm a writer, and words are my stock-in-trade. I always had a good supply, both written and verbal. But when I tried to pray, I found I had no words.
With this new state of affairs came doubt. Did my prayers really do anything? Was anyone listening? So I stopped praying.
The weeks stretched into months. I moved from surprise, to frustration, and finally, to resigned acceptance. I felt a darkness, a void, in my life without prayer. So I went searching for it. Eventually, help came from an unexpected quarter: men and women who were several centuries old. The ancient Christians and their written prayers.
It started simply. About the time I was unable to pray, we joined a church that regularly said The Lord's Prayer together. For me, it was an epiphany. Pray together? Out loud? I had no words myself, so why not? I had nothing to lose.
Every Sunday, I prayed The Lord's Prayer with my community—people I loved, those I disliked, men and women who were strangers to me. An odd thing happened. As I prayed in community, I discovered comfort in the fact I was praying at all. I felt a connection to those who prayed with me. And I felt a link to the roots of my faith, stretching back to those early disciples and Christians who prayed the same prayer two centuries ago.1