He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
Teach us to pray…we still ask that. Prayer seems to elude us. We know that it is part of our spiritual journey but, yet, we still ask how. When I was in Jerusalem a couple of years ago, I was struck by the Muslim Call to Prayer, Adhan, in Arabic, that rang out across the city five times a day. I remember thinking that these people seemed to pray a lot more than I do, so I started praying at those times. It was meaningful to feel a part of that rhythm, that call to return to God in the midst of life’s ritual and to journey with others who are called to the same thing. I’m afraid that many of us tend to limit our prayers to our needs and the needs of others. Our lives are wanting for prayer. We want to know how to pray. We want to have a deep and abiding prayer life that connects us with God and makes our lives richer and fuller. How do you pray? Who taught you to pray? Why do you pray? What makes your prayer meaningful? Maybe that’s our problem. We’re trying so hard to bring meaning to our prayer life that we’re not allowing our prayers to bring meaning to our life. We’re trying so hard to find God that we don’t expect to experience a God who is already there. God does not need our prayers; we do. God does not have to be invited into our lives; we just have to open our eyes to God’s Presence that is already there.
The truth is, Jesus knew that. He knew that people struggled to experience the real Presence of God and because of that, they also struggled with how to acknowledge and live with that Presence in their lives. He knew that we struggled continuously with doubts about God and about what God wanted from us. He knew that we struggle with what prayer should be. So he begins where we are—in the midst of that silence that is God. He began by showing the disciples what was at the very core of his own life—his relationship with God. Because remember that Jesus had made prayer an integral part of his life. How many times do we read of him “withdrawing to a deserted place to pray” or “going to the mountain to pray” or “spending the night in prayer with God?” He prayed before he chose the disciples, when he fed the five thousand, and on the night before he was led to his death. He even prayed on the cross, a prayer of centering and forgiveness.
The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray has nothing to do with knowing the right words. It really is more about persistence. Jesus continues in this passage by reminding us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Far from characterizing God as some sort of celestial Santa Claus who always brings good little boys and girls the things for which they ask, Jesus seemed to assume that God is already in motion, that God has already answered every prayer, and that God has already opened every door that needs to be opened and is standing at the threshold inviting us to enter. So praying opens our lives to the presence of the God who is always and already there and gives us the realization that God provides life’s minimum daily requirements so that all we need to do is open ourselves to being with God.
The truth is, most of us starve ourselves for God. We search and search for meaning and neglect to realize that there is but a bountiful feast laid before us for our consumption. And yet, we continue to live on the junk food that we have created in our lives. We just have to become aware of how badly we need nourishment. And we need to pay attention to the rhythm that is part of us all. Prayer is becoming a part of that rhythm, part of that creative Spirit that is God. Prayer is more than words; prayer is being with God.
To pray is to go down into a deep well where the sound of the voice of God echoes in the darkness. (Joan Chittister, in Listen With the Heart)
This Season of Lent is about re-patterning our lives to that Rhythm that is God. Prayer is part of that. As part of your Lenten discipline, why not set up your own “call to prayer” schedule. Feel the Rhythm that it holds.
Grace and Peace,