Prayer is many things. It is the sustenance of a spiritual life, a way to talk to God, a way to listen to God, time to be with God and a form of work. It provides a time when we present ourselves as fallow ground for God to plow and plant.
Daily prayer is a potent method to bring us along the spiritual path. I began with only a few minutes a few times a week. Those minutes became so sweet that soon it was 15 minutes almost every day. That wasn’t enough so it grew to fill any time available. I had a single office, so coming to work 45 minutes early provided an opportunity to ground myself and my day in prayer.
Years later I was called to retire from my Occupational Therapy profession, where I served children with disabilities, to begin a new vocation – praying. For the first six months of my retirement I simply prayed – when I went for walks, did chores, cross stitched crib quilts, listened to music and sat in silence. After that time, I discovered that I was praying continually.
I’d heard of prayer without ceasing. I read and re-read Brother Lawrence, but couldn’t do what he did. I lacked the mental discipline to constantly think religious phrases. Instead, I found that my heart was always reaching out to God. I had learned a heart prayer, based on constant love. It was simple and seemed to come naturally.
Thank goodness I was lead to a form of prayer suitable for someone with so little mental discipline! This doesn’t mean that I’ve achieved some sort of blessed plateau. I often wallow in selfishness and frustrated desires. When things go wrong – like not feeling well, or not being able to find a private place – there are days when I don’t formally pray at all.
Despite twenty years of practice and all the blessings/help I’ve been given by God, I have to admit that I don’t know how to deliberately pray. My practice is to find a private quiet place with a comfortable chair, and begin praying for a list of people. The list includes people from my Meeting, family, those who have requested prayers, and people I led retreats with.
I don’t ask for specifics for most of them, but that God have mercy on each – and all – of us.
Some days, I get through the list quite quickly, and then sit quietly. Other days, I experience what I term a ‘spiritual blackout’ and later snap back into awareness to find that one- half to two-and-a-half hours have passed without my knowledge.
I have no idea what occurs during this time. My sense is that God borrows my soul for some purpose. Healing? To help others? I don’t know. These blank times have come to seem like a test – will I surrender, knowing that I will experience a little death? Will I make myself available to God, without having to understand why?
Having shared my story of not knowing much and not being faithful to my practice, what can I tell you? At most, I can add some support for you to go and spend some time hanging out with God. That’s the essence of prayer – making ourselves available and open.
I’ve heard it said that all we have to do is show up in prayer, and God will do the rest. What happens during the prayer will be up to God, not us. If we just sit and nothing happens, if we fall asleep (after all, we are falling asleep in the arms of God, which is pretty wonderful) we might feel that we have failed. But we didn’t, because we showed up.
We might not be able to still our minds, so our thoughts continue to range over petty and important things that face us. We’ve showed up, but weren’t listening.
Did we try to connect with God? Are we sad that it didn’t feel that we did? Then perhaps that was us at our best that day. God was still with us, deep in our soul. We may not have been aware, but God was working on us.
Before I began on this Quaker journey, I wasn’t aware that peoples’ relationships with God changed over time. I also wasn’t aware that people could have complex, long and huge relationships with God.
My earliest prayers were much like someone leaving a message on an answering machine. I told God what I wanted, but didn’t expect – or wait – for an answer. Maybe what I’d asked for would happen, which was the most I could expect.
Now I view prayer as a blessing. It’s an opportunity for me to say, “Here I am God. I want to spend some time with you. I’m ready to listen and perhaps we’ll talk together but most of all, I simply want to be near you.”
What greater use could we find for 5 minutes, or an hour; than hanging out with God? I can hear some readers saying, “Wait a minute! This doesn’t help me at all. I want some suggestions for how to pray.”
All I can say is that God knows your heart and soul. What you do – chanting, walking, repeating a phrase, breathing deliberately, drumming – is less important than why. If you reach out to God with love, you will encounter love. Perhaps not how you expected/wanted, but God will love you abundantly.
If you seek to be with God, you will find over time that comfort has crept into your soul. If you cry out for solace, it will eventually come.
If you insist on certain outcomes, you may well be disappointed. God’s ways are not ours, nor is God’s time.
Matthew 19: 13- 15 Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
I thank Heaven that we are all children – children of God.