March 7, 2024

“A Quick Prayer”

We hear it, even say it, often. Gathered for a church meeting or a meal, maybe at the start of a youth event or a Zoom. The priest or lay leader in charge says something like, “Let’s just have a quick prayer.” Sometimes it is even, “Let’s just have a quick prayer and then we’ll get started.”

It’s usually followed by something ad hoc, a little thanksgiving, perhaps, or a request for God’s presence and guidance. No more than a sentence or two. Maybe three. Then everyone says, “Amen!” and we get on with whatever it is we are there to do.

The intention is good. We want to acknowledge God and remind ourselves that God is God and we are God’s people. It’s important.

So I wonder why we say “quick.” Maybe we don’t want folks to think we will get bogged down by something longer -- an order for evening, perhaps, or something with a lot of religious words. Maybe we don’t want the prayer to interrupt the flow of the gathering.

When we say “quick”, though, it can give the impression that we are reluctant, reticent, or that we are embarrassed by a sense of obligation. This is a church gathering, so we need to have a prayer. But don’t worry, it’ll be quick. It is almost as if we are checking off a box.

Last Lent I was made aware of a “quick prayer” alternative. I found myself in a congregation for a Eucharistic liturgy, in a pew about four rows back from the choir. We had just heard the Collect for Purity, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid…” And because it was Lent, we did not sing a Gloria, but rather, we sang the Kyrie.

It wasn’t spoken, it was sung, slowly, and it was repeated three times.

Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

I heard the people around me, the congregation gathered, singing together. And viscerally, I experienced it as a communal prayer. I heard the people gathered, myself included, praying together:

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Have mercy on all of us, here in this place, this day. We need you.

And I wondered what it might be like if we paused at the start of a church meeting or gathering and simply, reverently, prayed together.

Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

Maybe repeat it for good measure. Maybe alternate it with Greek in order to remind ourselves just how very ancient it is. And because it transcends all the branches of the Faith, it unites us with Christians throughout the world. It is like the Lord’s Prayer in its universality, but without all the variables of translations. It is just simpler.

So maybe whatever the season (it doesn’t have to be Lent!) the next time we are in a rush to get started with a meeting or meal, when the spirit is flowing and the energy is high, we can say something like, “Let’s join together in a simple ancient prayer….”