I don’t know why but I have always had a deep desire to smoke. I can’t think of anyone I really looked up to as a child who smoked, the smell oftentimes made me feel nauseous, and I have still never taken a smoke…I suppose perhaps it was all those John Wayne movies I saw growing up where Wayne always had a cigarette and the best way to handle stress or injury was always to light up a smoke.
In any case, this was one of the two reasons I picked up Malcolm Boyd’s book from a thrift store – a pastor was smoking on the front cover. The other was that I have a hard time praying (I think it is related to my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and so I am always looking for books of prayers or on prayer.
Well, I’ll keep picking up books with smoking pastors if I see them, because this one turned out to be a real gem. You know how some books you underline a few lines here and there? And every once in a while you find a book that is so powerful you feel like you might as well underline the entire volume? Boyd’s slim volume of prayers was the latter for me. I have a hard time even choosing what quotes to share with you, there are so many.
In the Introduction Boyd offers some insightful thoughts on prayer, the rest of the volume will be prayers – but here he philosophizes or theologizes a bit.
Pray as Life
“Prayer, for me, used to stand as something separate from other parts of life. But I have come to learn that real prayer is not so much talking to God as just sharing his presence. More and more, prayer and my style of life as a Christian seem inseparable.” – 3.
“I came to realize that, for me, ‘community’ was no longer an ideal but a reality, here, now. Each evening when I talked with groups of students, this was it–the sharing, the common life experienced together. I no longer had to seek for it; it was given and I had only to accept it.” – 4.
On Prayer Initiative
“Prayer, I have learned, is more my response to God than a matter of my own initiative. I believe Jesus Christ prays in me as well as for me. But my response is sporadic, moody, now despairing, now joyful, corrupted by my self-love and desire to manipulate Christ’s love…I find in the Psalms much the same range of mood and expression as I perceive within my own life of prayer.” – 6.
On Jesus as Grounding for Prayer
“It has been asked by some persons why this book is not entitled Am I Running With You, Jesus? The query overlooks the fact that my prayer life, as the state of my spirituality, is neither very respectable nor quite correct. Needless to say, I am a self-centered man, sinfully immersed in my own welfare and concerns, attempting to manipulate God, and often lost in my own self-love and self-pity. Are You Running With Me, Jesus? more accurately reflects the grounding, motivation, and style of my prayer life and spirituality as I grapple with imperfections and ambiguities in myself and my society.” – 7.
Boyd Prays for Freedom of Self
- “I’m crying and shouting inside tonight, Lord, and I’m feeling completely alone
All the roots I thought I had are gone. Everything in my life is in upheaval. I am amazed that I can maintain any composure when I’m feeling like this.
The moment is all that matters; the present moment is of supreme importance. I know this. Yet in the present I feel dead. I want to anchor myself in the past and shed tears of self-pity. When I look ahead tonight I can see only futility, pain, and death. I am only a rotting body, a vessel of disease, potentially a handful of ashes after I am burned.
But you call me tonight to love and responsibility. You have a job for me to do. You make me look at other persons whose needs make my self-pity a mockery and a disgrace.
Lord, I hear you. I know you. I feel your presence strongly in this awful moment, and I think you. Help me onto my feet. Help me to get up.” – 12.
- “I’m scared, Jesus. You’ve asked me to do something I don’t think I can do…I’m sure I wouldn’t want to do it except that you asked me….Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I’m just saying I don’t want to do it. I mean, how in hell can I do it?…You know me better than anybody does, but then you go and ask me to do something crazy like this. I can’t figure you out. I wish you’d just leave me alone today, but if this is what you think is best, I’ll try. I’ll try. But I don’t want to. Pray for me, Jesus.” – 15.
- “I want to be alone and not to be alone, both at the same time….But this silence is filled with demons, Lord, so that I’m not alone at all. I’m with demons. And I’d rather be with other people, Jesus, and with you. I’ve thought it out, and this is what I want. Will you help me cut loose from these demons so I can be with you and the other people?….Warm me, Jesus, so i can give out some real warmth to some other very cold people.” – 18.
- “I’ve just about had it today. Really, it’s too much. Don’t ask me to be patient…Okay, I’ll try some more to be human, but it’s nearly been knocked out of me for one day. Stay with me; I can’t do it alone.” – 22.
Boyd Prays for Freedom of Society
- “Save us from ourselves; spare us the evils of our hearts’ good intentions, unbridled and mad. Turns us from our perversions of love, especially when these are perpetrated in your name. Speak to us about war, and about peace, and about the possibilities for both in our very human hearts.” – 27.
- “We can’t make it alone, Lord…God knows, we’ve tried, and we’ve even reached the point where we could blow up everybody, including ourselves. Teach us how to listen carefully and patiently to other people. Teach us how to say what we have to say clearly, simply, and openly. Teach us what responsibility toward you and others really means.” – 34.
- “I was there, Jesus, as you know. I am a part of mankind, although I like to remember it only when I want something from my brother or society at large, and like to forget it when it involves me in humanness outside myself…I shouted for your crucifixion, Jesus. I taunted you as you bore your cross, and I stood in the crowd to watch you die…I did this again just today, Jesus…Forgive me…” – 37.
Boyd Prays for Racial Freedom
- “I know you’ve done a lot to wise us up, Lord, but please keep on trying. You’ve even given your own self to wise us up. But, Jesus, please don’t give up on us.” – 41.
- “Lots of well-fed, comfortable, middle-class people everywhere are praying for ‘situations’ like this all the time. But they don’t seem to do enough about changing such situations by altering political and economic facts of life, or helping specific men, women, and children who are victims…Isn’t prayer expressed in action, Jesus, and isn’t real action a form of prayer?…Otherwise, wouldn’t it be more honest not to go through the mere motions of praying, Lord? I mean, if we do not intend to offer ourselves and cooperate with you in fighting evil?” – 42.
- “O God the Father, our Father, who created man in your own image and after your own likeness, so that we are all sons of God who are loved equally by you and share equally the privilege of having been created in your own image, Have mercy upon us.” – 48.
“O God–you who are neither red, yellow, black, nor white, but who has created us in a marvelous variety of rich colors and marked us with your image, We ask you to hear us, Lord.” – 51.
Boyd Prays for the City
- “They’re having a party in a hotel suite which is elegant and located in the best hotel in the heart of the city. There’s music, jewelry, glamour, gin, V.I.P. status, and POWER, Lord.
But nobody’s having any fun. They’re too busy sparring with one another in the POWER game which, tonight, is also the sex-and-booze tournament…
Everybody looks slick and, underneath tans and wigs, somewhat lonely. I mean, they’re not relating, Jesus. They’re only observing the stiff protocol of small talk and ground rules…
The masks are on parade tonight, Jesus. The masks are smiling and laughing to cover up status anxieties and bleeding ulcers.
Tell us about freedom, Jesus.” – 55.
- “I look at their faces and realize how they are our victims, especially when we like to say they are beautiful children, but we don’t change conditions which will make their faces hard and their hearts cynical.” – 58.
Boyd Prays for the Campus
- “Please work with him in his restlessness, Lord. Give him all the interior peace that’s possible without letting him go soft. Help him to pace himself in the fight, Jesus, and not to sell out under the pressures.” – 67.
- “He feels raw and bleeding, Jesus; he just wants peace, and not to be bothered any more. Who’s going to show him that your peace means starting to care all over again?” – 72.
- “Get her out of the hell she’s in, Lord. She’s got to understand that you find real beauty in her. Help us to provide the mirrors in which she can begin to see that beauty herself.” – 73.
Boyd Prays for Sexual Freedom
- “He’s a married man, Lord, but he says he doesn’t feel married…Underneath his words, what is he really saying, Jesus?…Was he forced to settle down too soon? What kind of impossible demands is he making of life that he can’t work out his needs within his present situation?…I find myself wanting to shake him, maybe partly because he stays so even-tempered, soft-spoken, low-key….Can you get past his defenses, Lord?” – 92.
Boyd’s Other Prayers
- “Jesus, you ruined all the phony success stories forever when you didn’t come down from the cross, turn your crown of thorns into solid gold, transform the crowd at Golgotha into a mighty army, march on Rome, and become the king…When you refused to play the role of a Great Man, or the ultimate Big Shot, you really made us level with you as yourself, Lord.” – 100.
- “…Nevertheless, you were actively, creatively, responsibly loving, even on the cross, Jesus. Help us to see that love for what it is–in all its fierce passion and sweep of forgiveness.” – 102.
- “Grant us tension, Lord, in the midst of false peace, and grant us that peace which passes all understanding, in the midst of the struggle in which we are engaged on earth for the dignity of man. Amen.” – 111.
- “Jesus, we’re here again. What are we doing here? I mean, how is communion with you possible? You’re holy, and we’re very human. Yet I remember that you also became human.
I wonder how we can honestly be nourished and cleansed by your body and blood. Yet I realize communion is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. I accept this mystery.
We are grateful for this intimacy with you, Jesus. We thank you for letting us share this corporate action as we offer to God all of creation including our own lives. Give us faith to understand what it means to be thankful.” – 112.
- “‘Send me.’ But where, Lord? To do what?
To bring pardon where there had been injury in a life I casually brush against at my daily work? (But I had thought of mediating a teenage gang war in Chicago!)
To help turn doubt into faith in a person with whom I live intimately in my circle of family or friends? (But I had thought of helping a tired drunk on skid row!)
To bring joy into a life, consumed by sadness, which touches the hem of my life at a drinking fountain? (But I had thought only of a far-off mission land!)
‘Send me.’ Send me next door, into the next room, to speak somehow to a human heart beating alongside mine…
Send me to reflect your light in the darkness of futility, mere existence, and the horror of casual human cruelty. But give me your light, too, Lord, in my own darkness and need.” – 115.
- “Help us, Lord, who claim to be your special people. Don’t let us feel privileged and selfish because you have called us to you. Teach us our responsibilities to you, our brother, and to all the people out there. Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.” – 118.
Take fire and burn away our guilt and our lying hypocrisies.
Take water and wash away our brothers’ blood which we have caused to be shed.
Take hot sunlight and dry the tears of those we have hurt, and heal their wounded souls, minds, and bodies.
Take love and root it in our hearts, so that brotherhood may grow, transforming the dry desert of our prejudices and hatreds.” – 119.
This is a great book for anyone who wants to be challenged to combine honest, gut-wrenching prayer with action. It is a clear look in the mirror of our own souls. A short and fantastic read. Go get a copy – its old and almost free.