a doorway


“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
Zora Neale Hurston

At long last, I’m reconciling with prayer. For so long, I’ve avoided thinking about it altogether, avoiding it like the plague, actually. Probably has something to do with the missionary telling the young teenage me about the man who came into her storefront church and how when she called on him to lead the prayer, he stood up and with his eyes kept open, spread his arms wide and said something like “Hey God, it’s me, James” then just started having a conversation. Having grown up in the world of men (and only select, special men, mind you) leading us in prayer “with every head bowed and every eye closed,” this story was a breath of fresh air. The missionary, however, was absolutely appalled and said she cut him off mid-prayer and asked him to leave. Banished.

Now, Sugar, you need to know that I love being a Southerner, but as a woman living in the proverbial Bible Belt, it’s dangerous to use words like “prayer” lest they confirm the stereotype (that in my case, is not true) and get the dreaded label attached to your forehead. It’s something that’s hard to wash off.

So yes, prayer and I became estranged a long, long time ago. But then one day recently, I sent a letter to prayer by way of my journal and asked Couldn’t walking be a prayer? Yes, came the answer. And Do we have to call on men to lead us in prayer? First there was a chuckle, then a sigh, and finally a No, absolutely not. Anybody can pray, anybody at all.

After a while, my intense dislike of prayer began to wane, and I came to decide that among other things, prayer is a way to give the brain a vacation . . . or at least a day off. Seems to me that prayer is paying such close attention to Small Things that you can’t help but feel Something Big.

We’re not completely There yet, prayer and I, but we’re working on it.


For the wind no one expected

For the boy who does not know the answer

For the graceful handle I found in a field
attached to nothing
pray it is universally applicable

For our tracks which disappear
the moment we leave them

For the face peering through the cafe window
as we sip our soup

For cheerful American classrooms sparkling
with crisp colored alphabets
happy cat posters
the cage of the guinea pig
the dog with division flying out of his tail
and the classrooms of our cousins
on the other side of the earth
how solemn they are
how gray or green or plain
how there is nothing dangling
nothing striped or polka-dotted or cheery
no self-portraits or visions of cupids
and in these rooms the students raise their hands
and learn the stories of the world

For library books in alphabetical order
and family businesses that failed
and the house with the boarded windows
and the gap in the middle of a sentence
and the envelope we keep mailing ourselves

For every hopeful morning given and given
and every future rough edge
and every afternoon
turning over in its sleep

says Naomi Shihab Nye

says me.


  1. tracymangold

    There is such beauty in prayer. Best of all – it is portable. It goes everywhere – can be in the form of whatever you choose. And it can be so restorative. I have found. Hugs. This is beautiful.

  2. whollyjeanne

    Restorative – I’m finding that, too, Sugar. And portable – yes. Goes way beyond one pulpit.

  3. Brenda

    Beautiful prayer–I know exactly what you mean about our

    • whollyjeanne

      the older i get, the easier it gets to just lay those ole’ tar babies down on the side of the road. love the way you spent your time in the mri.

  4. Tracey Selingo

    This is beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank you, Jeanne, for sharing your prayer conundrum. It deeply resonates with me. Prayer and I made amends last year. I do believe I sounded a lot like the man who was banished for having a conversation, but if you can’t have a conversation with God, then who can you have one with? xo

    • whollyjeanne

      “. . . if you can’t have a conversation with God, then who can you have one with?” That’s what I always thought, felt like Tracey, but then the missionary seemed so darn sure. And prayer and such was her job. Just yesterday I wrote something in my journal that May Sarton said. When speaking to Hartford College, she said she loved being old. “Why?” somebody asked. “Because I am more myself than I’ve ever been. There is less conflict. I am happier, more balanced and powerful.” Then she amended that last sentence to say “I am better able to use my powers.” It all seems to fit – me, getting older, becoming better able to use my powers. Glad you and Prayer have reconciled. That encourages me. xo

      • Tracey Selingo

        I see you using your powers. 🙂 I think there is a definite link to age because that’s when we stop just swallowing the medicine we’re handed and we realize that we can find a better cure on our own. It’s heart work.

        • whollyjeanne

          “heart work.” “finding a better cure on our own.” yes, yes, yes – a thousand times yes. i call it saging – and i’m editing the first of what will be 3 books about it. i know there’s much theory on the books about how women reach A Certain Age and look back to who they were around age 8-10 as a guide to their true self. me? i look back to who i was before having children. that seems to be when i set myself aside. but now? oh my goodness. now i’m taking that self out of the closet, dusting her off, and trying her back on for size.
          i’ve said it before, and i’m saying it again: thank you for your daily promises. they drop in just about the time i’m revving up every day, and your dailiness (which my friend angela kelsey rightly says is the key to alchemy) encourages and motivates me.

  5. sorrow

    really? banished? banished?
    sorry I can’t get past that one….

    • whollyjeanne

      Yes ma’am. That fella was banished by the missionary for not praying correctly. That one story did a number on me. In a lot of ways.

      • sorrow

        I have thought about this all day..
        I just have the mental image of this pious soul who gets to heaven and st. peter says ” whats the right prayer to get in” and the pious soul gives some “prayer” and st. peter says “nope, Guess you will have to wait outside until you figure it out”

        • whollyjeanne

          this missionary i encountered must’ve been a direct descendant of the st peter in your imagination.

  6. Merry ME

    Where have I been? How did I miss this? I’m with Illuminary on the guy being banished. How can anyone on this planet think they own the rights to the kind of prayer our all-knowing and all loving Creator wants to hear? My guess is that (S)He heard James introduce himself, (S)He settled right down into a comfy chair, and said something like, “James, how good to hear from you. Come sit with me and tell me what’s on your heart.” That’s the image of God I carry around instead of the scary, bearded guy who was always mad at me.

    I followed one of Alana’s posts to a woman named Ronna Detrick. Are you familiar with her? I want to sit at her feet, listen and ask questions, knowing if she doesn’t have the answers, at least it’s okay to ask.

    May the One who wrote the sweetest prayer, “it is good” bless you and keep you.

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