I want to say something about prayer. Do we understand what prayer is? I can’t believe that God of the Universe wants or needs certain formula prayers in endless repetition—prayer is for our benefit, to keep us focused on what is right and good, reminding us that God is there for us. When formula prayer seems to not work for us we may think we’ve lost the ability to pray—but prayer is so much more, it is entering the spirit of God: to offer to help someone in need is prayer, to wish others well even if they are unkind to you is prayer, to put effort into doing something well is prayer, to marvel at a sunset is prayer. Prayer should be a sign of gratitude. I believe it was Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank you’, it is enough.”
I’ve chosen a brief passage from my book The Stations * that addresses prayer.
The artist says to his dear friend, “It worries me that I can’t pray”
Mother Abara gestures toward the studio, “Oh but you are mistaken, you are a master at prayer.”
“Yes, I carve stone into Stations of the Cross, . . . but me personally, in my quiet moments alone with myself I can’t pray.”
“What is missing is an experience of consolation, not your ability to pray. What do you think prayer is?”
He thought for several moments, “I guess I don’t actually know. I think of the Psalms—those are magnificent prayers.”
“Yes, they are beautiful—but they represent one kind of prayer. As children we are taught to ‘say our prayers’, so we come to think prayer is ‘saying words that please God’—and we think there are certain formulas that do the job better than others. When our formulas stop working, or when we cease to make a connection between the formulas and our inner world, we think we’ve lost the ability to pray. Our mistake isn’t in our praying, it is in interpreting—we have ‘failed to put an end to childish ways’.”
“ I hear what you are saying, Mother Abara, but I miss your meaning.”
“ Prayer is giving praise and worship to God, not in invoking magic formulas. For many people, saying formulas helps them reach praise and worship, but others do it differently . . . To bask in the wonder of creation, to sing for the joy of the song, to reflect deeply and bring forth new understanding . . . those are ways of praising God. You’ve said yourself, as have the Psalmists, God is beyond our understanding so to appreciate the wonder without demanding that it fit our preconceived notions is to pray.”
. . .
“The form of prayer that is most your own is when you give form to the stone. That helps others connect to the awe and wonder of life’s meaning. Every moment of that work—including the struggle to know what to put into the work before a single line is drawn—is your prayer. Stop thinking that saying words or experiencing the wonder is the only way. That is the childish thinking you must bring to an end. Recognize that the prayer you pray is in a different form.”
* Available at Amazon