“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.” Everything Belongs,by Richard Rohr
This feels risky and crazy to post a blog on prayer. Thousands of books have been written on prayer and I’m going to write 1500 words on the subject? But there are a few things I would like to process with you, knowing it is a forever process of the deep mystery of God and his relationship with humanity. I think it is valuable to share and journey together – even if it is just dipping our little toe in.
Ever since I noticed God and chose to follow Him back in high school, I have always had a difficult time with prayer. I have struggled with feeling like I wasn’t a faithful pray-er – so easily distracted – finding my mind thinking about a million things to do, and then feeling frustrated because I got distracted and didn’t utter the needed words for my friends and loved ones that were desperate for help and intervention – or at least didn’t utter them long enough (I have no idea how long one is supposed to be uttering to get God to respond. Let’s be honest, we want God to be on our side, wanting what wewant and for Him to intervene and help us out). I struggled with trying to sound really spiritual in my prayers uttered out loud. I think that perhaps that meant I was praying to my friends and not to God. I certainly have struggled with my posture in prayer – kneeling or laying before God feels too humbling (that is a whole other blog) and distracting for me. I’ve had my prayer lists for those who needed me to be faithful in prayer, but I got overwhelmed because the needs around me were great and many, and so I shut down. There were periods of time that I spent my quiet time going through the different kinds of prayer – trying to pray through each area of praise, adoration, gratitude, and petition. And then when thousands upon thousands prayed for our son to be healed and God didn’t intervene – I processed that maybe if I had prayed more fervently or laid prostrate in prayer more often my son would have been healed.
Since the death of our son over 6 years ago, I have set all the above aside and began to search and listen for something more real. Prayer must be something more.
“We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. . . . Prayer is the opening of mind and heart—our whole being—to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself.” —Thomas Keating
I am not going to try to speak into whether God breaks in to our lives and brings healing or not. (That would take a lot more than 1500 words! And that would take getting a window into the question of the ages.) Except to say that through my journey of opening my eyes to all the suffering of the world, I have very few answers. I used to have a bunch. But what I do know is that there is a Creator of this complex beautiful world. And that He loves all He has made and that He is here. He is here in each of us. And I believe He aches with us through all the pain and loss. I don’t have the answers about all the suffering in this world – but I know Jesus came to show us that He is present. That He is with us. Emmanuel: God with us. And quoting Peter, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! You have the words of life.” John 6:68. Because I believe He is present in each of us – He shows up when we show up in each others lives.
In my search, I discovered that prayer is so much more than words. In fact, I think words are the least important part of prayer. It’s more about surrender; about empting myself and about noticing my world and being present to God as He reveals himself through the beauty of nature and people. (At times, it seems easier to see Him in the former than the latter.)
Barbara Brown Taylor shares in her book, An Altar in the World, some thoughts from Brother David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian Benedictine Monk, “prayer is not the same thing as prayers. Prayers are important but prayer, according to Brother David, is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing. When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing. God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst.”
As I have walked through the tragedy of my abusive childhood and of loosing our son. The path I eventually found myself on was one of pursuing presence; choosing a daily goal of surrender or letting go; giving God access to all of me. I believe that is the path of prayer. Yes, words are spoken and pleas are made for those we love and are concerned about, but the larger place of prayer, I believe, is lived and not spoken.
“Our awareness of the supportive presence of God is outside of and beyond our power to express in word or conceive in thought. This gift of contemplative prayer is not a way of thinking. It’s much more a way of notthinking. It’s not a way of talking; it finally moves beyond words into silence. It moves into the mystery that is too deep for words. I have said for years that our expression “peace of mind” is a contradiction in terms. I have never met anyone who is at peace who is in their mind, and I have never met anyone in their head who is at peace. Prayer must lead us beyond mind, words, and ideas to a more spacious place where God has a chance to get in.
While the prayer of words is an attempt to express to ourselves, our dependence on the great mystery, the prayer of silence is not so much to express, but to experience, that dependence. We acknowledge and rejoice that we are beloved, created out of nothing.” Everything Belongs.
Contemplative prayer has come to mean a time of letting go and surrender for me. It has been recommended to have a twenty-minute time of centering prayer in the morning. This practice is about centering and calming our hearts. It’s about giving our egos – who really love to be in charge – a break. It is in stillness that we hear the whispering voice of God. And in silence we give God access to our whole being. Find a place you can sit or walk. During this twenty-minute contemplative prayer, the goal first is to invite God’s presence and action within you. He already lives in you but you are now giving permission for Him to have access to every cell and space. As you extend this invitation, let go of any thoughts that come into your mind. This is not about empting your mind as much as it is about surrendering your constant attempts to control, calculate and obsess. Choose a word or words to gently re-center and quiet your mind. Lately, I have been using the phrase “I compassionately and courageously let go.” This phrase has been a powerful tool for me in my surrender as compassion speaks into my wounded history and I need to call forth courage to trust that as I let go of all that is heavy on my heart – He carries it all for me and rest in that He carries me as well. You can choose whatever word or phrase will be helpful to re-direct your mind.
As you go through your twenty minutes, thoughts will come in – powerfully and unrelenting sometimes – but just gently redirect your mind by saying your word or phrase. As you sit, be attentive to your body, especially tuning into your breath. Breathe deep tummy breaths through your nose and relaxed breaths out through your mouth. Continue deep breaths and repeating your special word or phrase. At the end of your twenty minutes – sometimes it will ‘feel’ like an hour – remain with eyes closed in silence for a moment with a few final deep breaths.
There is an app that I use called Centering Prayer. It has readings, a timer and different sounds to begin and end your prayer session. You don’t need it, but use it if it is helpful.
“The contemplative journey is the most responsible of all responses of God because so much depends on it – the future of humanity, the healing of the wounds of humanity, our own deepest healing. It’s not just a method of meditation or a practice to find personal peace. It’s basically a total acceptance of the human condition in all its ramifications, including its desperate woundedness . . . Humans are fully capable of becoming God, not in the fullest sense of the term, but in a very real way, where the light, life and love of God are pouring through them, channeling a source of healing, compassion, and reconciliation wherever they go and whatever they do. They are rooted in the divine compassion and mercy, and are manifesting . . . the pure light of the image and likeness of God within them, which is the assimilation of the mind and heart of Christ in everyday life.” Thomas Keating, Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ.
Richard Rohr says, Contemplative prayer “may feel like nothing, but it ends up being everything.”