Shirley Durr: Too deep for words

February 25, 2019

By Shirley Durr, alternate lay delegate

I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver (from “The Summer Day”)
As I sit in The Dome in St. Louis, listening to the Legislative Committee of General Conference 2019 debate minute details of legislation that will likely change the nature of The United Methodist Church, it is difficult to pray. Here, there are no fields for strolling—only brick walls and hard floors that echo the voices and songs calling us to worship and deliberations.
The voices are not strident. Many sound so calm, I wonder what the fuss is all about. But some sound so sorrowful, I want to stop and pray and personally assure everyone crying out in pain and despair. But I came here to witness and so I try to give attention to what matters.
When I needed to leave my seat to step out into the hall to re-charge my laptop battery, my attention was drawn away. Next to me was a young pastor working on his laptop as he re-charged his as well. Because the voices in the arena were too hard to hear, we talked about our shared belief in the church’s mission of liberation rather than judgment.
I came to St. Louis to witness and give attention to what matters. And this young pastor reminded me that it is God and God’s people who matter, not a church or even a denomination.
I returned to the arena with a 75 percent re-charged laptop and a 90 percent re-charged soul. I may run out of juice again, but I am determined to not be replete as long I pray—as Wesley reminded us—unceasingly for the people who are the church.
How should we pray when we don’t have fields for strolling nor grass for kneeling? Romans 8:26 tells us that the Spirit helps us when we don’t know how to pray: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
With my “one wild and precious life,” I will return to the arena and my witness, giving my attention as they make hard decisions. I will listen and rejoice where I hear liberation and pray for the judgments. I will breathe in the Spirit and release sorrow and despair in my sighs.

I don’t need to find the right words. I just need each of you to know your “one wild and precious life” is what matters most, not what is debated on the floor. Breathe in the Spirit and know that God moves in you.

Shirley Durr is an alternate lay delegate to General Conference. She is a member of Epworth United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.

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