The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster’s Pastoral Study Project
After over a decade of work as associate pastor where I pray more and preach less, I have become deeply in tune with the practice of prayer. The more I prayed, the more I wondered: what is prayer? What do we hope when we approach God’s throne of grace? What words most resonate? What practices matter most? I spent the last year asking that expansive question through practice and academic study, along with deep engagement with the congregation, whether through worship, daily written devotionals connected to poetry and scripture, or the integrated practices of prayer with young people and their families. After a season where the global pandemic upended every aspect of life, my question has shifted and become more focused: what is it to pray in uncertainty? The question is relevant long before and after a pandemic because seasons of uncertainty unfold in families, communities and cultures, but it seems particularly poignant now as uncertainty remains our daily bread.
Even in a season not tossed by global pandemic, uncertainty is a core part of human life. There is no way to truly know the future, and so we must, day by day, walk into the unknown of what tomorrow will bring. If uncertainty is the core context of Christian life, then prayer is our known hope as we face an unknown future. Whether in praise or lament, holy silence or expletive-laden pain, we approach God never knowing what comes next. And yet, prayer itself has its own core set of unknowns: when we pray, will we innately know and experience God? We cannot force experiences of the divine, and so prayer in uncertainty has elements of praise and lament, feelings of possibility and impossibility, rich and nuanced experiences of the divine as well as the hopelessness of sensing divine absence. This project intends on wrestling with the human experience of uncertainty in everyday life, as well as the mystical and potentially beautiful, yet often frustrating not-knowing that emerges from a life of prayer.