Learning to pray

Winging It is a filthy book written by a depraved mind and it should never have been published. That is the gist of an email I received this morning. I won’t quote it in full; it begins:

K C Carlton (I refuse to say Dear K C Carlton because you are not dear to anyone and certainly not to God)

and I think you can infer the tone from that short introduction. I can’t tell you who the email is from because it is not signed; I have the email address (for what that’s worth) but if she doesn’t want to be identified I’m prepared to give her that. Well, unidentified lady, I understand how you feel. No, really, I do. Jimmy Carlton lived a sinful life and I would have been happier if he had been less graphic in the way he described some of what he did. In particular, I’d have preferred a lot less detail about what it is that men do when they go to bed together for purposes of sex. I wasn’t ready for that—I’m still not ready for it, and I had to read the book several times in the course of editing it. My decision in the end was that Jimmy had wanted his story to be published and I was going to give him what he wanted, but I do understand when you say that that was the wrong decision. I do. I will say, though, that one of the passages you complain about occurs in Chapter 17 and I’m not sure it was necessary to read quite that far into the book if it offended you as much as you say it did—though I realise you may see that as a cheap shot.

Patrick Rooney sent a rather different email, in which he says, ‘I want to thank you for the guidance on prayer. At my church, and in the devotional books I read, we are constantly exhorted to pray, but no-one has ever explained how to do that. When I read Winging It, I knew! I have put the lesson to use every day since then, following the words the Episcopalian priest tells Jimmy to use, and I feel myself closer to God, which is the point of prayer. Thank you. I owe you more than I can say.

So there we have two very different views of Winging It. I’m sorry for the offence it obviously gave at least one reader, but I always knew it would offend. I’m glad Patrick Rooney found it helpful.

It occurs to me that others may want the advice on praying but may not want to read the book to find it. Here it is, then—the passage in which Jimmy learns how to pray:

‘You don’t find God, Jimmy. He finds you. He’s been holding out His hand to you all the way through this sorry life you’ve described to me. Just like He does to everyone. All you have to do is take it.’

‘You make it sound so easy.’

‘It is easy. The secret is in submission.’

I almost choked. Right back on the third page of this book I said, “What I dreamed of most of all was submission.” I guessed the submission the priest was talking about was not the same as I’d meant back then. I said, ‘How do I do that?’

‘You put Him first. You pray.’

‘I’ve never found prayer easy.’

‘That’s because you haven’t known how. Most people only pray when they want something. That’s no good.’ He pushed a yellow lined pad and a pen across the table. ‘Write this down. Your first prayer every morning should be: “Oh, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord God, I place myself in your hands, for you know better than me what I really need.” Then you can ask for something you want, as long as you think He’d approve. Then you say Amen. And then you say, “Father I’m sorry for my sins. Forgive me, and help me to sin no more. Bless those I have hurt in my sinning, especially…” and then any names you think would be appropriate in that context.’

‘Hold on, you’re going too fast for me. Okay. Next?’

‘Then Amen again. The third prayer goes, “Lord, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the blessings you have heaped upon me, which I know I have not deserved, and for the prayers you have answered. May your holy name be glorified forever. Amen.”’

He waited while I got all the words down. ‘The fourth prayer is the Lord’s Prayer. I take it you know the words to that?’

I nodded.

‘That’s it, Jimmy. But you put Him first. You say the prayers out loud and on your knees and before you do anything else.’ He grinned. ‘Actually, you should take a piss before you pray, just so your mind is on the words you’re speaking. But nothing else. Don’t get dressed, don’t take whatever medication you’re on, don’t eat breakfast till your prayers are said. At night before you sleep you pray again. Just two prayers this time: the one thanking God for his blessings and the Lord’s Prayer. And in the meantime as you go through the day and live your life you think about God and what He would want. You put Him first.’

‘What does He want?’

‘Don’t you listen to a word in church? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Show you’re putting Him first by putting other people first. His hand is always stretched out towards you, Jimmy. Reach out and take it.’


One response

  1. Pingback: Learning to pray « sfhopkins

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