Lenten Discipline: Bowing and Becoming

“Then Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane…” (Matt. 26: 36)

During the Sundays of this season of Lent, I am posting some thoughts on different spiritual disciplines.  Today I have chosen prayer.  Who am I to talk about prayer?  After all, it is probably “THE” spiritual discipline, the one that we all do (or think we should do more often!), that we all know (or think we should know better!), that we all feel like we should be doing better.  So, what is prayer to you?  At its simplest it is a conversation with God, a connection with the holy and the sacred.  So why is it that most of us claim that we need a deeper prayer life.  Are we not satisfied with the conversation?  Are we not getting the answers we want?  Or do we think that God wants more from us?  My guess is that it would be a little of all of the above.

In my “previous life” before ordained ministry, I sang in the choir as a layperson.  We almost always did a choral response following The Lord’s Prayer.  So, to this day, I cannot say that prayer in worship without looking up when I get to the last line, as if I’m still watching for the cue from the director.  (Of course, if you who go to St. Paul’s and you already know that, I guess it means you don’t have your eyes closed either!)  But, the point is that I cannot NOT do it and when I catch myself looking up while everyone’s heads are still bowed in prayer, I’m always a little embarrassed.  But, when you think about it, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Prayer is a way of  “attuning ourselves to a conversation that is already going on deep in our hearts”, as Marjorie Thompson says (in Soul Feast, p. 31.). It does not end with “Amen.”  It, like most good spiritual disciplines and all good faith stories, ends with a beginning.  It ends with our becoming engaged with God and joining what began long before we came along to the story.

There is a story from the Sufi mystical tradition of a disciple that comes to an elder for direction.  “Where shall I find God?” the disciple asked the elder.  “God is with you,” the Holy One replied.  “But if that is true,” the disciple asked, “why can I not see this Presence?” “Because you are like the fish who, when in the ocean, never notices the water.”  It is not that God is not with us; it is that we are unaware of that incredible Presence. (From There is a Season, by Joan Chittister, p. 14.)

And yet, most of us tend to pray prayers as if we’re throwing something out to a God that is “out there” somewhere, hoping against hope that God will pick them up and answer them (hopefully with the answer that we desire!).  We are told to “turn everything over to God.” I don’t think, though, that God meant to be in this alone.  Our prayers should not resemble our Christmas list of desires or even our grocery list of needs.  Rather, our prayers are our way of connecting to and entering the heart of that incredible Presence that is everywhere that we can imagine and everywhere that we will never know, the Presence of God.  Think of prayer as reaching and grasping, connecting and attuning, enfolding and becoming a part of the holy and the sacred God that is everywhere in our lives.  Prayers are indeed answered.  We just have to attune ourselves to the answer that is already present in our lives.  God’s desire is to fulfill our heartfelt prayers by filling our open heart with God.

Prayer is indeed “THE” spiritual discipline.  In fact, prayer is everything we are and everything we do, our whole life, every breath, every person we meet, every word we say, every thought we think that brings us closer to knowing this God who is already there.  Think of your “amen” as the beginning of that journey of holiness and wholeness that fills your life.  Maria Boudling says of prayer:  “All your love, your stretching out, your hope, your thirst, God is creating in you so that God may fill you…God is on the inside of the longing.”  And needing to pray, or wanting to pray, or just knowing that you “should” be praying means that you have already entered the conversation.  Amen.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, 
the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speek that infant lips can try;
prayer the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high.
Prayer is the contrite sinners’ voice, returning from their way,
while angels in their songs rejoice and cry, “Behold, they pray!”
Prayer is the Christians’ vital breath, the Christian’s native air;
their watchword at the gates of death; they enter heaven with prayer.
O Thou, by whom we come to God, the Life, the Truth, the Way:
the path of prayer thyself hast trod; Lord, teach us how to pray!
                                           (James Montgomery, 1818, in The United Methodist Hymnal, # 492) 

So, in this Lenten season, become your prayer and let your prayer become part of all that is God.

Sometimes You Just Have to Wait…(See “A Season for Pruning”, 03/31/2011)

 Grace and Peace,


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