gathered prayers

I occasionally have to clean out the pulpit
getting ready for a Sunday morning.
Either cull the extra hymn books and Bibles that have multiplied,
or stock the pulpit because some or all have disappeared.
Recycle old bulletins.
Deal with the “visual aids” of old Messages to Young Worshippers,
the “props” of old announcements,
and all those various and sundry papers that have collected.

I actually love doing that—
reminder that it all is
of the consistent gathering of the community for worship.
And I particularly love those various and sundry pieces of paper.
Because, more often than not,
those are papers on which are inscribed prayers:
offertory prayers, invocations—
the prayers of the people.

Sometimes scrawled on small lined pages of a notebook
ragged at the top where torn out,
or on a larger page from a larger notebook—lined/unlined—
ragged where torn out on the side.
Sometimes printed on a sheet of 8 1/2 x 11.
Some folded once in half,
others folded many more times.
Some crumpled up, some crisp and pristine.
Some placed in the pulpit before the service
and retrieved upon arrival,
others carried up, folded and tightly grasped in a hand—
others tucked in a pocket and pulled out while arriving.

Prayers breathtaking … and I’m thinking of individual prayers here:
one breathtaking in its honesty, another in its simplicity,
this one in the hope expressed, that one in the pain,
these in the wonder they name.
Prayers breathtaking … and now I’m thinking of all the prayers:
breathtaking in the faith they represent.

I gather them all respectfully.
I read them, hearing another’s cadence echoing in my memory.
And I offer thanks—
for the prayer and the pray-er,
the community we comprise,
the God we address
in whom we trust
and the rhythm of worship
that flows through our living
shaping us,
we believe ….

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