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“Without prayer, I wouldn’t know how to be”


January 5, 2005
-by Dan Dyck


Dyck (no relation to the writer) suffers from familial tremors, a disorder she inherited from her mother’s side of the family.

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“…And to touch life gently, deeply, profoundly – this be my prayerful resolve.” - excerpted from the book Gifts from God, by Clara K. Dyck, 2001

Winnipeg, Man.— Clara K. Dyck holds up her altered book and admonishes bookmakers to manufacture books that lay flat when opened.

At 86, the most visible signs of her ageing, petite frame show up in her hands, which she cannot hold still enough to pour a glass of water – or hold open the pages of her Mennonite Church Canada Prayer Directory.

Dyck (no relation to the writer) suffers from familial tremors, a disorder she inherited from her mother’s side of the family. Though not life threatening, it certainly is debilitating. She demonstrates how she used to hold the book open with her elbows while praying. Medications for the condition provoke allergic reactions from her body.

She likes to connect with her prayer subjects by pondering their pictures in the directory. To ease the task, she cut open the spine of the book, and with help from her church’s secretary, hole punched the pages for insertion in a 3-ring binder. “[She] gave me a black binder, but I said, ‘No, black doesn’t suit prayer. I’m fond of colours.” She smiles and points to the vibrant front cover.

She’s also fond of living life to the fullest, descending from a long line of adventurers. Her great-grandfather reportedly migrated to North America and spent 10 years as a gold miner in California, only to have his traveling companion murdered and fortune stolen on the return trip.

After her first career as a nurse, she migrated through a season of teaching college level English literature and German, and then spent time as a hospital chaplain. When she fell and broke her hip at age 73, she decided to retire, though the hospital kept calling her back. She finally told them, “I can come back anytime if I can come on roller skates, because the halls are so long,” she recalls, laughing.

In 1950, she was one of a group of four young women who disembarked from a plane in Bogotá, Colombia, to do a term of service with Mennonite Central Committee. She remembers the downfallen faces of her hosts, who had asked for four men to help build a school. “We did plenty of things, but we didn’t build a school!”

Growing up in Tiefengrund, Sask., Dyck brought her own early sense of exploration and adventure to the farm life by starting a tennis club for the younger set. “At first they laughed at me. I had seen it in the city and thought, ‘That’s something I want to do!’” The tennis club thrived under her direction and coordination.

Her life’s journey from mid-life on has been largely defined by her disability. Unable to continue nursing, she went back to school and earned a masters degree in both English and German. But her tremors were causing increasing difficulty; during her entire masters studies in English she accumulated only five pages of notes. “I couldn’t do it anymore, because I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t take my typewriter along [everywhere],” she says, because of the growing weakness in her hands and arms.

Without the benefit of disability insurance, Dyck managed to earn a living by engaging in her love of words and passion for language. In addition to teaching, she has translated countless books, and written for news papers and magazines. In 2001, she self-published a hard cover book of poetry, personal reflections – and prayers.

Clearly the importance of prayer has had a significant impact on this never married, independent and thoughtful woman. Dyck now models prayer life for others, but modestly attributes her desire for prayer to her mother. “My mother was a wonderful praying lady. I learned it from childhood.”

Prayer is the most important part of her spiritual life, she adds. “Without prayer I wouldn’t know how to be. I don’t know how people get along without prayer.”

End note:

In January many Mennonite congregations devote a week to a special time of prayer. Praying over the broken body of Christ is a resource developed especially for this purpose. Preprinted booklets can be ordered from the Resource Centre (1-866-885-2565), while electronic versions can be downloaded from In addition, the Canadian Council of Churches is inviting Christians to join in a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the latter half of January. More information can be found at