Myth #3: Structure inhibits creativity.
I used to think that structure in church, especially scripted prayers, left no room for creativity. If everyone’s following a script, I assumed, they aren’t really thinking about what they’re saying and might not even mean what they’re saying. Even if they do mean it, after following the same script multiple times, it must get old and lose meaning after a while.
All of that is very possible.
But I’m learning it doesn’t have to be that way. Rather, structure can enable creativity.
As a writer, I’ve taken creative writing classes that taught free verse poetry…but only for a few days after a few weeks or months of reading and practicing structured forms like sonnets, villanelles, and pantoums! Why? Because structured forms taught us to love and respect words, to be careful with each one of them, to cultivate relationships with them as we worked with them for hours on end. Quite the opposite of losing meaning, we made sure that our words were rife with meaning.
Perhaps, in the same way, structured forms of prayer can teach us to love and respect prayer, to be careful with it (not “careful” in a nervous sense but in a full-of-care sense), to cultivate relationships with the prayers we pray and, moreover, with the God to whom we pray.
With structured forms in mind, we can pray within them and also without them in “stronger, brighter, deeper” ways — to use the words of writer Ursula Le Guin, above. Structured prayers can be a starting point for “free verse prayers” (that’s probably not a real term) in a number of ways.
As I heard at church this morning in a class on the Lord’s prayer, “What if we were to use each line of the Lord’s prayer as a headline for our own articles of prayer?”
We see, in the news, headlines about current events, opinions, sports, and entertainment — all filled in with the stories of the day. I’d love to think we can see, in the Lord’s prayer, headlines about God’s holiness, kingdom, provision, forgiveness, and guidance — all filled in with the stories of our days.
Through a combination of structure and story, we use created forms in creative ways. This is both obedient to Christ who taught us and authentic with Christ who knows us.