Once upon a time, public prayer was, among my people, something of an art form. It may still be, but not exactly in the same way. After all, back then lay participation in any kind of public worship was so minimal that when it happened--when an adult (certainly not a child) would pray up front of the congregation--it was well, worth noting. Today, democracy has arrived--just about anyone does just about anything.
But back then faith language, the language of prayer, was deeply affected by the King James, the only Bible translation people read. The KJV bestowed words like thee and thou upon us, a lexicon of specific prayer words, like bestow, for that matter.
When juggled deftly, those words spun out so gloriously that my mother used to say of so-and-so, "Oh, he's such a good pray-er." I was just a boy, but I knew exactly what she was talking about, even though I didn't how to spell that word.
One attribute of good pray-ers was a facility to wield a familiar lexicon; words like bestow and beseech and behoove generally had to be there in full supply, along with a healthy sprinkling of sturdy stock phrases, like "in the evening hour of this day. . ." That sort of thing.
Anne Lamott picked one of those old standards for the title of her first book of essays--Traveling Mercies. When I was a boy, if I'd had a dime for every time I heard that phrase, I could have bought a go-kart and taken off myself. "The Vander Vanders are leaving us this noon, Lord," my own father might have said around the dinner table. "Give them traveling mercies as depart on their homeward way."
This morning, after yet another long couple of days of interstate travel, I'm more than happy to be home. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the thousands of miles I've put on in the last two weeks--the vast majority at speeds the old Buick shouldn't dare; then again, maybe I'm just morphing into one of those old praying saints myself or taking up the old repetoire; but this morning I'm thankful the Buick is parked safely back in the garage, and grateful that the Lord, in his infinite grace has extended to me, once more, a full measure of his own very special traveling mercies.