Sarah shared with Premier’s Maria Rodrigues on the release of her book of prayers by women from a diverse range of backgrounds, A Rhythm of Prayer
I was really moved that you dedicated the book to Rachel held Evans, who sadly died at such a young age. She had made such a huge impact on so many people, including those who'd never met her. How do painful things like her death affect your prayer life and walk with God?
That’s one of the things that I think surprises people, that in the midst of a faith shift or deep grief and loss we can lose prayer. The old pathways that made sense when your life also made sense can disappear sometimes overnight when you experience tremendous loss or that kind of grief.
Actually, that was part of where the idea for the book was born, as that came in the aftermath of losing Rachel in that first season of grief. Prayer has always been a very integral part of my life and I began to realise that what I really wanted to do with was be in prayer with other people. It had to be something that was communal, so I had this vision of a prayer circle. We each need moments of finding both new and ancient pathways of prayer, of being able to rest in the prayers of people we trust to be true about our heartbreak. We need those who understand that you can bring your whole self to God, that you don’t have to pretend to be less angry than you are, or less hurting or less sorrowful. That to me was really healing and transformative. It also helped, as it always does with the body of Christ, to give me back language for prayer, and even postures for prayer.
You mentioned prayer circles there and speak very fondly at the start of the book about this phenomenon. Can you just explain what one is?
I grew up in very small, ‘happy clappy’ charismatic churches in Western Canada, the kind that met in an empty church basement or at a leisure centre. We would always gather in a circle, and simply someone would open with prayer and someone would end with prayer. Sometimes we would share prayer requests and pray for one another, and pray for what was going on in the world. If there were great sorrows or tragedies – things that we wanted to bring to God together – sometimes we simply sat in silence, with Jesus together.
Those are really precious memories for me. Having room for all the different ways that people prayed really taught me a lot about prayer. The Bible is way more honest about prayer than church people are, so being able to have those spaces to pray through scripture, to pray ancient prayers together or sit in silence was a really holy, sacred space for me.
For many of us our experiences of church may be limited, so why would you encourage us to branch out a bit, to learn from others in the way that they pray?
I think that’s actually a really beautiful invitation from the Holy Spirit. I went through a very strong crisis in my faith in my early 20s and ended up feeling like I couldn’t remain or fully integrate within the tradition that I’d grown up with. I felt that if I lost church maybe that meant I was going to lose Jesus. Instead it was actually the process of beginning to be in relationship with, and be taught by, people who came from completely different traditions to my own. It reminded me that God was so much bigger than my little teeny tiny box that I had both constructed and been handed. God will meet with you in any box, but God also transcends that box.
There are so many things that we can learn from one another, as well as all the things that we can unlearn. There can sometimes be some very toxic or broken theology or practices that we just simply need to be honest about and release. That experience of broadening deeply enriched my prayer life. It introduced someone like me, who had only ever done spontaneous prayer, to things like liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer and contemplative practices and so many different things. It’s been fun to integrate all of those things into who I am now. I’m still who I’ve always been, but being able to have all these other practices of prayer as well has made the conversation that is always going on with God so much richer, and I’m really grateful for that.
You can listen to the full conversation here.