Prayer and Coffee

Spiritual Smart Aleck


The day begins with a woozy shuffle down the hall to the kitchen, where I put water in the kettle and turn it on. Place a filter in the one cup cone, coffee in the filter, and the cone on a mug, and pour the boiled water over the coffee.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Mug full of coffee in hand, I sit at the kitchen table and open my Book of Common Prayer to page 137: “Open my lips, oh Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” (from Psalm 51)

It’s not a bad way to start the day. Do I do it every day? Alas, no. I would be awfully pious if I did, but I often wake up late and dash out the door or am otherwise distracted. So not so pious. I would have made a lousy nun, and not only for my lax rule of life. Obedience would have tripped me up.

Still, I have started my day many mornings the last thirty-one years or so with that routine, and I pray every day, quick prayers, what my friend Julie called arrow prayers, firing them off in the moment.

The morning prayer ritual has become a touchstone and a quiet place when the world around me is noisy and chaotic, which is nearly always. I have a list I keep in my Book of Common Prayer with the names of the people for whom I pray every day, plus people for whom there are emergent needs. I pray for healing, peace, and relief from pain; safe travel, grace, or whatever is asked.

I give thanks.

Now, I am aware that many of you think prayer is a lot of hooey. These days there is a sharp kneejerk reaction to the use of the expression “thoughts and prayers” by insincere people who could do something about, for example, gun control, but won’t. That’s the sort of hypocrisy that gives prayer a bad name.

If you don’t trust people who are all talk and no walk, at least you know your instincts are sound.

Does prayer work? Yes, it does, but it’s not magic. God is not an online Amazon catalogue. You pray with intention, but you do not know what will happen.

I think this is one of the gripes some people have with faith: What’s the point if faith and prayer don’t FIX everything? What kind of a God …? Etc.

If the God you don’t believe exists has disappointed you because he should have put an end to war, quietly deposed all the lunatic dictators and tyrants, fed all the hungry, housed all the homeless, and put the Mariners in the World Series, then you are right. That God does not exist.

God is not magic. We cannot control everything with prayer.

It is our job to make peace, depose the lunatics and tyrants and then not become lunatics and tyrants ourselves, feed the hungry, and house the homeless. You don’t have to be a Christian to do this work.

Working on fixing the world often seems futile, but most of us keep getting up every day and doing the best we can. Sometimes praying is all we can do. There was that time I was in the car wreck and stuck in bed for a couple of months.

Miracles do happen. Usually not the specific miracles you pray for. There have been miracles in my life that I did not recognize until I looked back years later.

The first time I drove off the ferry onto Vashon Island, as I passed the Episcopal Church I had a sudden strong feeling of being At Home. A few minutes later, at the main intersection, the friend I had come to visit introduced me to the first person I met on Vashon Island: Rick Tuel. I did not know that day that I would end up marrying Rick and living on Vashon Island the rest of my life. Well, so far.

You know, we’re always petitioning God for things, and sometimes God tells us things with big red capital letters, or points toward things with flashing neon signs, and we don’t see them. So maybe you could say we don’t answer God’s prayers. We don’t have the understanding. And yet, sometimes, things come right.

At the end of morning prayer comes the Collect: “… in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The hardest part of prayer for me: being quiet and listening for God’s purpose. You must be careful. It is insane to get cocky about thinking you know God’s purpose. I think it’s good to lead with kindness, though.

Blessings on you, dear readers. We live in interesting times. May we encourage one another. Amen.

P.S. Almost forgot: the Mariners are on their own.