Your views on God (your theology) affect what you say when you pray. Not sure what to call God when you pray? Not sure how to start your prayers? Not even sure how to pray?
Here are three steps to help you come up with your own prayers and discover your theology at the same time. Yup. You get two for the price of one.
1. In the list below, circle all the words for God that most appeal to you. This list mostly duplicates one developed by Sister Nancy Corcoran (a Catholic nun).
The All-Compassionate, the All-Merciful, the Absolute Ruler, the Pure One, the Source of Peace, the Inspirer of Faith, the Guardian, the Victorious, the Compeller, the Creator, the Maker of Order, the Shaper of Beauty, the Forgiving, the Subduer, the Giver of All, the Sustainer, the Opener, the Knower of All, the Constrictor, the Reliever, the Abaser, the Exalter, the Bestower of Honors, the Humiliator, the Hearer of All, the Seer of All, the Judge, the Just, the Subtle One, the All-Aware, the Forbearing, the Magnificent, the Forgiver and Hider of Faults, the Rewarder of Thankfulness, the Highest, the Greatest, the Preserver, the Nourisher, the Accounter, the Mighty, the Generous, the Watchful One, the Responder to Prayer, the All-Comprehending, the Perfectly Wise, the Loving One, the Majestic One, Breath of Life, the Resurrection, the Witness, the Truth, the Trustee, the Possessor of All Strength, the Good, the Appraiser, the Originator, the Restorer, the Giver of Life, the Taker of Life, the Ever Living One, the Self-Existing One, the Finder, the Glorious, the Only One, the One, the Satisfier of All Needs, The Gracious One, the All Powerful, the Creator of All Power, the Expediter, the Delayer, the First, the Last, the Manifest One, the Hidden One, the Protecting Friend, the Supreme One, the Doer of Good, the Guide to Repentance, the Avenger, the Forgiver, the Clement, the Owner of All, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty, the Equitable One, the Gatherer, the Rich One, the Enricher, the Preventer of Harm, the Creator of the Harmful, the Creator of Good, the Light, the Guide, the Originator, the Everlasting One, the One Who Is Present and Has Always Been and Always Will Be Present, the Inheritor of All, the Righteous Teacher, the Lawgiver, the Patient One.
2. Add other words for God that appeal to you but don’t appear in the list.
3. Rewrite the following three prayers by substituting the words for God with the ones you prefer (and also by changing phrases as you see fit). Or choose other prayers, even ones whose theology strike you as vastly different from your own. The effort of rewriting different kinds of prayers will help you discover your theology because it’ll help you figure out what ways of talking to God work for you and which don’t.
Prayer A: O God whom humans have called the unknowable, whom they have sought in unfamiliar ways of thought and have come back empty-handed, let us see how much You are the God of common things and of every day experience, the God who is near and not far off. For surely, You are not only the end of the quest but the beginning, not the reward of life’s pilgrimage alone but its companion hope. Help us, if we cannot see You in the splendor of the sphere to see You in the miracle of every flower that grows, and when we need the strength and solace of Your love, let us seek it in one another. (prayer written by the Unitarian minister, Rev. A. Powell Davies)
Prayer B: O God, You have called us into life, and set us in the midst of purposes we cannot measure or understand. Yet we thank You for the good we know, for the life we have, and for the gifts that are our daily portion:
For health and healing, for labor and repose, for the ever-renewed beauty of earth and sky, for thoughts of truth and justice which stir us from our ease and move us to acts of goodness, and for the contemplation of Your eternal presence, which fills us with hope that what is good and lovely cannot perish. (Jewish Reform prayer)
Prayer C: God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee, shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land. (often called the African-American anthem, prayed by the Reverend James Lowery at President Obama’s Inauguration)
References: 1) Nancy Corcoran. A Multifaith Guide to Creating Personal Prayer in Your Life (Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths, 2007), 119; 2) Prayer A: A. Powell Davies, The Language of the Heart: A Book of Prayers by A. Powell Davies (Washington, DC: All Souls Unitarian Church, 1956), 114; 3) Prayer B: The Gates of Prayer, The New Union Prayerbook (New York: Central Conference of Rabbis, 1975), 670; 4) Prayer C: James Weldon Johnson, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Hymn #149 in Singing the Living Tradition (Boston, Beacon Press, 1993).