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On Writing, and On Praying

(This post originally appeared over on, and is reposted with permission)

I received a comment in response to my “Riding Uphill” posts (here and here):

“I guess I’m just not someone who prays. It’s probably something you’ve either got or you don’t.”

The comment stuck with me because it echoed the thoughts in “On Writing, Not Writing, and the Writing Life” by Kathryne Young (which I had just read, following a link on “There Are No Rules” – just want to give credit where credit is due) where she says:

“My mother told me […] when I was young: you don’t get to choose whether you’re a writer; your only choice is whether to be a writer who writes or a writer who doesn’t. What she didn’t tell me then, though I’m certain she knew, is that if you’re a writer and you’re not writing, you will never quite be happy.”

Her comments ring true for me. I don’t consider myself to be “a writer”, but writing is something I have done in one form or another since… well, a long time. When I can’t, I feel like things are slipping away from me unrecorded and unremembered.

But does the same thing apply to prayer? Are some of us born innately as pray-ers, while others aren’t? And if so, which am I? Because whether or not we are natural born writers, the reality is that LOTS of people write regardless, and write well even if they don’t feel an affinity for it. Why shouldn’t the same be true for prayer?

Ms. Young’s words drew me back into the comparison:

“I’d like to think that my writing self is different from [her every-day self]. I’d like to believe […] that she comes out of hiding on certain early mornings when the time is right and the coffee is rich and hot, that she writes a few stunning pages and slips back into bed while my other self drives into Palo Alto to make a living. Perhaps this division appeals to me because it makes me feel less guilty when I haven’t written anything in a month: only my writing self can write, and she’s moody. If the conditions aren’t perfect, she can’t be expected to emerge.

But in the end, there is only me and my busy, imperfect life. The days that I write are victories. And even after the most discouraging, least productive sessions, I never regret writing. I learn over and over that time spent writing is time well spent.”

Similarly, I can’t create some “prayerful me” persona who exists independently. There is just regular old me. And if the time is not right, the coffee neither rich nor hot I still have an obligation – not a nice-to-fit-in-if-you-can, but a real live commanded-to-do-it obligation – to pray. Even when it’s hard. Even when I don’t feel up to it. Even when I’m certain it won’t be very good.

A very health-conscious friend tells me “The hardest part of my exercise routine is where I bend over to tie my tennis shoes, pick up my keys, and walk out the door to go to the gym. After that, I’m pretty much home free”. The same goes for lacing up tefillin, wrapping my tallit around me and “getting to work”. The way I see it, I’ve got a lifetime to find out if that part ever gets easier or not.

As Ms. Young states:

“This gives us a great deal of time to follow Samuel Beckett’s famous imperative to ‘fail, fail again, and fail better’. To succeed, we have to fail. To fail, we have to try. To try, we have to put ourselves on the line—risk freezing our limited, myopic worldviews onto the page for everyone to scoff at. We don’t “discover” our writing selves. We build ourselves into writers by realizing that our busy, imperfect lives are the writing life.”

The writing life… the praying life. It has a nice ring to it.

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