Idols, Vain Repetitions — and Swearing

Prayer is a huge spectrum. Find what works between you and God.

Here’s my mug shot, courtesy of my daughter

I’I’am not sure if I have a prayer closet or a swear shed.

Perhaps it’s a swear closet or a prayer shed. I wasn’t the person who thought up that piece of brilliance. I don’t know who did, it was one of those viral memes on Facebook.

For me, I think there’s really no distinction between a prayer closet and a swear shed.

Yes, I’m old enough that I still use Facebook as my primary social media. My fifteen-year-old daughter thinks that’s crazy. I think fifteen-year-old girls are crazy.

I was taught the line most of us have probably heard: prayer changes things. The thing is, I don’t think that’s true.

What I say now is that prayer changes people, not things.

My prayers are a range that consists of anything from flipping a bird and loudly inviting God to go fuck himself, up to and including wearing a mantilla with a rosary in my hand and saying “Hail Mary, full of grace…”

I’m going to talk about both those kinds of prayer (and many more) in these articles. Not all kinds of prayer work for everyone, but luckily for humanity, there are many, many kinds of prayer.

The important thing is a relationship with God. The ways we relate to God, speak to God, and listen to God, are unique to each individual.

As an addict, I’m often muttering, “God, grant me the serenity…” which brings me to one of the biggest issues people seem to have with anything but spontaneous prayer.

Let me tell you first that if you want someone to pray a public, spontaneous prayer, I’m not your girl. Please don’t ask me, you will scare me. If, however, you need three hours straight of Hail Mary, I’m here for you.

I’m an Episcopalian, so in church, I’m used to reading the prayers straight from the book. My ex-in-laws, when I first began to attend the Episcopal Church, cautioned me that the Bible said we shouldn’t pray with vain repetitions.

I shrugged it off, which they were not happy about. Still, they were also unhappy with anything that wasn’t King James Version, only Independent Fundamental Baptist, separated, soul-winning, blah blah blah.

In other words, there was no winning with them. I still get a call once every few months so that my children’s grandfather can spend 30 minutes bitching about my “allowing” my oldest daughter to be transgender.

I hear the line, “God says we shouldn’t use vain repetitions; it says so in the Bible.” My argument to them, and to anyone else that might need to hear it, is that prayer is never, ever, ever, a vain repetition.

Even if I pray the Jesus Prayer for the next hour, it’s not a vain repetition because I’m praying. Prayer is not vain.

I’m going to talk about all kinds of prayer in these articles, not just those that certain people label “vain repetitions” or spontaneous prayer.

I have written some specific prayers for use with Anglican/Episcopal prayer beads, which might not be your cup of tea, but at least they are inclusive.

I’ll write about setting a prayer altar or a shrine, perhaps that will be of use to somebody.

There’s so much to talk about: icons, incense, sacramentals, specific meditations, devotions, chaplets, “graven images,” or “idols” if you ask my parents (please don’t). I can show you pictures of my idol collection — oh, statues, I mean statues.

I’ll talk about the rosary. I’m not Catholic, but sometimes they have good stuff, and the rosary is really good stuff, so I “borrow” it. I actually sometimes teach people one on one how to pray the rosary; I have done special seminars on praying the rosary.

Some people are very good at spontaneous prayer; there’s poetry and hymns, saints to talk to, journaling, centering prayer, Lectio Divina, there’s just so much. Take what works between you and God and ignore the rest.

You might be wondering what gives me the authority or credentials to talk about prayer. The answer is absolutely none. I pray a lot, and that’s honestly the only expertise I have.

I’m not a sweet church lady, I’m rough around the edges and as loud, impulsive, and obnoxious as Saint Peter could be. I’m the self-identified parish asshole (actually, I’m from Australia, so I’m the parish arsehole) in my church.

It’s a difficult, thankless job, but someone has to do it. Hahaha. I think my priest might think differently about it, though! I feel sorry for her, really, because she has to put up with the likes of me.

I live a religious life in a secular context, and so I spend a good amount of time in prayer. It’s something that I love, and I’m privileged to be able to do it because most people aren’t in a position where they can do so.

I’m a disabled single mother, so I have the time and flexibility because I can’t work or be out and about.

I’m not a priest, but I’m still going to make the invitation:

“Let us pray.”

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MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.


She/her. I write memoirs, feature articles, essays, poetry, and more.