Praying with the Psalms: A Set of Illustrated Prayer Cards
Stanley Hauerwas, the theologian and ethicist who taught at Duke Divinity School for many years, once wrote that we do not see the world rightly just by opening our eyes. We see the world rightly, rather, he argued, by training them to see the world rightly, which is another way of saying what C. S. Lewis observed, that it is impossible to fully see the mystery, beauty, wonder, or terror of the world except by the help of others.
This is one of the things we had in mind when Phaedra and I created a set of prayer cards that would serve as a supplement to the book that I wrote on the psalms, Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life. Our hope is that these cards (15 in total) would provide help to individuals, families, small groups, and communities who wish to learn how to pray in the light of the psalms.
The themes that I explore in the book include such things as honesty and community, sadness and anger, poetry and joy, justice and enemies, life and death, nations and creation. Each 4X6 card (designed by Shaun Fox) includes an original watercolor painting artwork on one side, corresponding to a specific theme in the book, and text on the other: a short passage from the psalms, three questions for reflection, and a prayer that I've written.
Here are a few ways that we think people might be able to use these cards:
• Individuals can use them as prompts to pray throughout their day.
• Families can use them as conversation-starters around meal times.
• Children can use them to help them talk about their thoughts & feelings about God.
• Small groups can use them as aids to the study of the psalms.
• Church/ministry staff can use them as community-building exercises.
• Children’s ministry leaders could incorporate them into a Sunday school series.
• Therapists might use them as helps in counseling sessions.
• Preachers could include them as sermon illustrations.
• Spiritual directors could use them as self-examination exercises.
• Retreat leaders could use them as tools for personal reflection and journaling work.
• Art and Faith leaders might use them as examples of the integration of art & prayer.
However they may be used, our sincerest hope is that many people will be helped in their journey with God and be encouraged in their prayer life.
One of the gifts of the psalms is that they do not ask us to figure out our prayer life alone. They offer us the company of friends to pray with us, and when we pray the psalms, we can be confident that we will hear the voice of saints and sinners in them. We can also be confident, in the words of Psalm 66:2, that God will come on the double when he hears our prayers, however wholehearted or half-hearted they may be.
The Victorian pastor and writer George MacDonald remarked in a 1908 essay on the role of the imagination, that our job as Christians was “to have constantly before our eyes in the room we most frequent, some work of the best attainable art. This will teach us to refuse evil and choose the good.”
Phaedra and resonate with this observation, and our hope is that these prayer cards, drawn from the language and imagery of the psalms, might offer each of us something true and beautiful to look upon in order that the eyes of our mind might be clarified and the eyes of our heart might be aroused for the sake of a deeper love of God and a more faithful engagement with a world that God so loves.
This is another way perhaps of saying that we hope these illustrated prayers might invite us to “pray with the eyes” and thus to see the world as God sees it—to see our life and work, our friends and neighbors, our churches and cities, our country and all of creation, in the light of the redemptive love of Jesus—and to be changed accordingly.