We yearn to speak with that Gracious Someone, but we often feel at a loss to know what to say.
as retold by Deborah
One day Jesus was praying someplace — I don’t remember where .... Anyway, after he finished praying one of the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, like John taught his disciples.”
Jesus said, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins — for we ourselves forgive all who are indebted to us — and do not bring us to the time of trial.’”
Then he said, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to his house at midnight and say, ‘Hey, George! Loan me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine just got here, and I don’t have a thing in the house to feed him.’ And George shouts down from an upper window, ‘Do you know what time it is? Go home! All the doors are locked, the kids are all asleep — and so was I, up until a minute ago.’
“I’m telling you: even if he won’t get up and give you something out of friendship, if you persist he will get up and give you whatever you need.”
“That’s why I say: Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
One of my favorite places in the whole world is a bookstore — any bookstore: whether large or small, dealing in used books or new. I’m exhilarated just walking through the door; invigorated by the information, knowledge, and ideas that buzz about the shelves. It hits me like a whiff of Extract of Potential: there, all things are possible.
So when a recent meeting ended earlier than expected, and I realized that I was only a couple of blocks away from one of the best local booksellers (which also happens to be conveniently located next to one of my favorite coffee shops) ... well, let’s just say that it was an irresistible set of circumstances.
They’ve recently remodeled; the aisles are wider, the lighting brighter, and the materials much better-organized. This last is a pity: the bookstore used to be a true Palace of Earthly Delights — no matter where you browsed, you might come across a collection of amazing poetry, tales of African explorations or treks down the Amazon, or the repair manual for a ’63 Chevy. Now (alas) they have a place for everything and everything is in its place — including twin center display tables: one featuring local authors, and the other dedicated to regional best-sellers.
As I glanced over the titles of the Best Sellers, my heart was strangely warmed. There in the center of a decidedly secular bookstore were row after row of religious tomes: guides for spiritual growth, biographies of saints, tales of angelic encounters, essays on faith, reports on the efficacy of prayer and meditation, and — far outnumbering all other topics — instructions on how to pray.
I scribbled a partial list of titles: Prayers that Work, Effective Praying in Times of Trouble, How to Talk with God about Everything, Prayers for Life, How to Pray the Rosary, A Guide to Effective Prayer, Prayers That Rout Demons, How to Pray, The Secret of Prayer, Power Prayers for Our Times .... There was even — and I swear I am not making this up — a book entitled Prayer for Dummies.
So much for the studies that say we are becoming less religious!
There, right in front of me, was endearing proof of our earnest efforts to reach the Holy One. God’s people are still hearing the Beloved’s call. All is well!
The extraordinary popularity of this topic also indicates an anxiety about communicating with God. We yearn to speak with that Gracious Someone, but we can’t seem to figure out what to say! So we turn to “experts”: people with an assortment of letters after their names, impressive job titles, or simply those with the chutzpah to presume to tell other people how it’s done.
At the risk of being categorized with those “experts,” I’d like to take on this issue over the next few weeks.
It seems to me that we humans sometimes — often? always? — make our dealings with our Creator far more complicated than they need to be. This is not to say that we can’t be helped along by the wisdom and words of others, only that ... well, as the saying goes, “it isn’t rocket science.” Prayer is simply honest and open conversation with the One Who loves and understands us.
Hold on there: honest and open? Maybe prayer isn’t so easy, after all.
Most of us don’t have much experience with honest and open conversations. The Dilbert comic strip is a wonderful fantasy about being “honest and open” with your boss, co-workers, and customers. But reality is different: we have to actually work with these people.
The same is true in our dealings with friends and family. Telling the truth can be a risky business. (“Does this dress make me look fat?”) (The answer, by the way, is always — and I mean always: “No! Of course not!”)
Aside from matters of discretion, when being kind rightly trumps brutal honesty (as in the example above), we often take “the path of least resistance” in our relationships. It requires energy, effort, and courage to tell others what we need, to speak up when we are unhappy, to raise issues when we are concerned. It is easier to “just let it be,” or to “suffer in silence,” — all the while wishing that someone would notice.
We can even silence our own interior dialogues. Humans have devised hundreds of cunning ways to prevent prayerful awareness. Our world is a noisy place, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”: radio, television, iPods, Xboxes, Wii’s and wi-fi. It is possible to fill our every waking moment with distractions.
The precious and few times when we hold court with our soul are awkward encounters: two strangers bumping into one another and then rushing off in embarrassment. The conversations we do have with ourselves tend to be hedged-round with excuses and self-justifications. We rarely tell the truth to ourselves!
All this makes for a lonely and disordered existence. Our souls long to speak and to be heard.
The good news is that even if we haven’t had much experience, there is a place where we can learn to be completely truthful. That place is Prayer. There we will meet the kindest, most patient Teacher of all. There we can speak without fear and be heard without judgment. And the doors are always open.
We enter into genuine prayer with a leap of faith: when we trust that God can “stand” all there is to know about us. It begins when we dare to believe that God will not turn away from us, no matter what we’ve thought, no matter what we’ve said, no matter what we’ve done.
That first step can be a big one. It requires that we lay down all the defenses we’ve built up: starting with the illusion that it is necessary (or possible!) to “protect” our Creator from the realities of our lives; that we can somehow shield God from our true feelings — or that we can shield ourselves from God’s all-knowing gaze.
It also opens the door to the most liberating, exhilarating experience of our lives. Prayer sets us free. In that blessed and holy space we can set aside the false images of power, control, goodness, or wickedness we have been hauling around. In prayer we are simply — completely! — who we are: free from labels, save only that of “beloved child of God.”
In prayer our souls are renewed, our spirits are refreshed, hope and wholeness is restored to our lives. In prayer, we are standing in the presence of our loving Creator, who wants only the best for us — and there, anything is possible.
Prayer is heaven on earth.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
If your only prayer is “thank you,”
that is enough.
~ Meister Eckhart