To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers wiser than all alphabets—clouds that die constantly for the sake of god’s glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned rights to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.
Barbara Kingsolver was interviewed by World Ark, Heifer International’s bi-monthly magazine, about her newest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The book describes her family’s yearlong pledge to eat only locally-produced foods. In response to a question about “moments of miracle on this journey,” Kingsolver replied:
For me, the biggest miracle is the fact that this project, which may have seemed to us in the beginning to be an exercise in deprivation, very quickly guided us through a paradigm shift. Very quickly, we came to see this way of living with a sense of gratitude.
We moved from beginning each meal by asking. “What do I feel like?” to asking, “What do we have?” We would look at what’s coming in — what’s wonderful and abundant right now — and work from there. It was very valuable for our family, and it’s a wonderful way to live. It’s a paradigm shift that all of us could probably use in our lives.
We are easily seduced by convenience and quickly jaded by an overabundance of, well, just about everything. But convenience and overabundance mask the ongoing reality of a world where most folks don’t have even enough, and where we, who have more than enough, are often deprived, too. We are deprived of gratitude, because things come to us too easily, and we are deprived of joy, because the price of convenience is quality. What comes quick and easy and cheap IS quick and easy and cheap.
The Kingsolvers’ experiment is interesting — even if it was done for the sake of a book! — but what I find most interesting about it is this rediscovery of a sense of gratitude, of finding again the daily rhythm of prayer and thanksgiving to which Jesus invites us: “This is how you should pray … ‘Give us this day our daily bread.'”
From the inward/outward website:
Pray, even if you feel nothing, see nothing. For when you are dry, empty, sick or weak, at such a time is your prayer most pleasing to God, even though you may find little joy in it. This is true of all believing prayer.
– Julian of Norwich
A prayer from Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I had never seen this prayer quoted before, but now I have “happened” upon it twice in three weeks! Three weeks ago, I used it in my eulogy for a ninety-two year-old retired music teacher and unretired Christian who had it cut and pasted into the front cover of his Bible. And today I read it again quoted as an afterword to a book entitled Listening Hearts, a book about discerning the call of God and the role of community in discerning call and supporting ministry.
It is a wonderfully humble and wonderfully hopeful prayer!
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
There is much that we do not know and much that we will never know. And it is true that even when we want more than anything else to do what God wants, we may struggle with knowing just what that is or how to do it. But if wanting itself matters … If it is our passion itself that pleases God … If it is our love itself that honors God … May it be so! And may we love God with all our heart minds and strength!
And may we walk side by side with our Christian sisters and brothers with this prayer on our lips, because if we do, if we come to our common Christian enterprise with this kind of humility, with this kind of passion, with this kind of trust, there will be little to drive us apart, and much to hold us together. I do not stand over against you or your values or your opinions, but with you in our common desire to please God, as we acknowledge to ourselves and to each other that even in our zeal we are not always certain of the way!
So much of language is just “fill” … words to fill empty space, words to comply with the rules and expectations of social interaction, words to avoid an awkward silence, words to avoid a more threatening eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul contact. We have to use so many words just to get through a day, words not well thought out, revealing nothing particularly profound, revealing nothing much of what is “really real” about ourselves.
And yet, even these “throwaway” words carry meaning. Even these “lightweight” words make a real and valued and valuable connection to another human being. The words we may “toss off” may well be received as a true gift and a blessing.
The same is true of the language of prayer. So much of my praying to God may be “going through the motions,” words to comply with the rules and expectations of a viable faith, praying so as to be able to say I have prayed. Not well thought out, not particularly focussed, not fully engaged.
And yet … To have prayed, however we have prayed, is to have made a real connection to the living God, a connection I dare say that brings delight to God and untold blessing to us.
So pray! Don’t wait for the right time or the right words or the right mood. Just talk to God. And when you do, those startling moments of profound self-revelation and unexpected intimacy that happen from time to time in your human conversations will happen too in your conversation with God.
So much of language is “fill” …… but not all of it!