"The Way of Love - Prayer"
As we circle around “The Way of Love” (Turn Learn Pray Worship Bless Go Rest) we turn now to Prayer. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry introduces the theme “Pray” this way. “Jesus teaches us to come before God with humble hearts, boldly offering our thanksgivings and concerns to God or simply listening for God’s voice in our lives and in the world. Whether in thought, word or deed, individually or corporately, when we pray we invite and dwell in God’s loving presence.”
There seems to be so much uncertainty about “how” to pray. So often we wonder, “Am I doing it right?” One of my favorite quotes about praying comes from contemporary poet Mary Oliver: “It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.” (From her poem Praying)
Prayer can simply be a rambling conversation with God. Or it can be as simple as one word. How often I have used or encouraged others to pray the one-word prayers that Annie Lamott popularized in her book whose title offers probably the most spontaneously used one word prayers we turn to: “Help, Thanks, Wow.” Sometimes we speak such a thought in a whisper or an anguished cry or a rush of awe. Other times we may we simply feel it as something wordless that wells up inside of us. Either way it is a holy prayer moment.
The disciples, Jesus’ followers, asked him, “Teach us to pray!” Jesus starts out with the prayer that is so familiar it seems indelibly inscribed on our hearts. Woven so seamlessly into our minds that it flows out of the deep currents of our memory as we give voice to it. Jesus begins, sharing it this way: “Our Abba.” He uses the Aramaic familiar, everyday intimate word for “Father” better translated perhaps as “poppa.” Jesus is teaching us that prayer is intimate, as intimate as the connection between a loving parent and a child needing love, nurture, and a sense of security within an all-embracing divine love.
Praying isn’t just a way of connecting that uses words or feelings, it involves our bodies. Praying is an embodied “act.” The ancient Hebrews stood, raised their arms and their faces to heaven when they prayed to God. Christians bow and kneel. Or they look into the eyes of saints or Mother Mary in icons, or gaze at images of Jesus in pictures or on stained glass as prayers rise within them. Or we sing our prayers in praise or lament. Or tune into moments and connect to something Divine in the sounds of a trumpet on Easter morning, a guitar around a retreat campfire, or an organ any Sunday morning. Those sounds carrying what we cannot say ourselves when what needs to be offered and received is too deep for words. Aren’t we praying when we rock and lullaby a baby? Or simply sit in silence with a loved one who is ill and needs in a way deeper than words to feel the love our heart presence offers.
I have heard it said that although we think we are the ones to initiate prayer, the reality is that God is always the initiator. That prayer is simply a response to God’s invitation to be present with the Divine Presence. That God is always simply waiting for us to turn toward the Divine love, compassion, wisdom, and embrace that is offered. A Love waiting for us to receive and respond to it and then live it forward into our lives.
Sometimes prayer is the easiest thing in the world and as near to us as the air we breathe. Other times it feels like a language or a pathway that we may have once known but now have forgotten and have lost our way back to it. So much can get in the way of our connection to the Path. Just like so much can get in the way of our living along The Way of Love. Prayer is simply conversation flowing between two hearts, our heart and the heart of the Divine. It is Holy. It is life giving. Let us help each other practice the art of Holy Conversation. God is inviting us. How will we RSVP?