Remembering back as far as I can, prayer has always been a part of my life. At bedtime, the traditional, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I prayer the Lord my soul to keep. Thy love go with me through the night, and wake me with the morning light.” At meals, two different prayers of which only fragments are recallable. At church, an abundance of liturgies, historical creeds and the grace sung a cappella in four part harmony at every potuck, luncheon and Easter Morning breakfast: “Be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored. From thine all bounteous hand our food may we receive with gratitude.” My memory is filled with prayers, and the prayers themselves evoke even deeper remembrances and feelings.

The nighttime prayer, said among my sister, my dad and me after he had told us a story, tucked us in and turned out the light, made me feel safe and watched over in our night-noise filled house. The dinner prayers weren't referred to as “grace,:” probably because plain and simple language was more valuable out on the frontier of the Midwest. The 1880's seemed very close, tangible in 1960's Wisconsin. It was important to remember the source of our food, but warm, creative phrasing was not instilled with the gratitude. But the ritual remained.

Church was a prayer smorgasbord. Unison prayers, pastoral prayers, prayer circles, all kinds of different prayers, and many different people speaking them. Sometimes people, Sunday school teachers, our choir director or lay leaders created prayers in the moment. Silent prayer was an integral part of worship and church meetings.

As I retrace this trail of prayer in my memory there is also a clear assumption that everybody knew what prayer was and how to do it. There was also an assumption about the results. Prayer was about talking to God, God listening and then the waiting began. We were to be about waiting for God's response. And although we were faithful people who did believe that God worked in mysterious ways, these ways did not include direct, overt communication with an individual or the congregation as a whole. We apparently believed in a God who made us search for the answers being offered. Looking for signs of God's answer would be much too fate-oriented for the people with whom I was raised. Paying attention to God with us is more accurate. There were lessons to be learned in asking God's guidance and continuing to seek it out.

Whenever I remember the past, particularly childhood, I reconnect with the matter-of-fact, down-to-earth practicality that is the Midwest. This straight forward atmosphere infused my prayer life as surely as every other aspect of my life. Prayer is prayer. You do it, you move on to the next task and you pay attention to God along the way so you don't miss the answer. I don't believe there was much room to question that philosophic process in the Northern European cultural background of the region. Either that, or its common sense didn't require questioning.

My adult understanding of prayer hasn't changed much. Prayer is still an intensely practical and forthright conversation with God. As the years have gone by I've recognized new names for God in Biblical references and faithful experiences along the journey. These names have broadened my understanding of who God is and where to pay attention for new ways God is answering my prayers.

What is my prayer experience? It is personal, rich, real. It is also strongly connected to my community and culture. If I had grown up in another place or time my understanding of this dialogue with God might be very different. Or very much the same.

Author's Bio: 

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay with a double major in Communication and the Arts and Social Change and Development and a minor in Women's Studies, was ordained into the ministry of the Moravian Church in North America after completing her Master of Divinity degree studies through Moravian Theological Seminary. Over twenty-five years of experience in individual and community ministries gives Rev. Kemp an informed perception about faith, its implications and struggles in everyday life. Rev. Kemp focuses her work on helping people understand their faith and how faith can become transformational in their lives. Bring authentic, meaningful faith into your daily life by visiting