When you’ve forgotten how to pray

Sometimes, I forget how to pray. No… scratch that – not just SOMETIMES, but OFTEN. Almost every single day.

I have a lousy memory. I forget what it takes to tap into God’s power. I forget that there is something bigger than me at work in the world. I forget that I don’t have to do all of this work alone. I forget that often the most valuable use of my time is to just SHUT UP and LISTEN.

As my last post suggests, I have too often fallen victim to the cult of productivity. We value “busy” in our culture. We don’t value sitting quietly and listening to the wisdom of the God of our understanding. Even in our prayers we think we have to be DOING something all the time. Like maybe we have to fill our prayer time with a whole lot of talking, reeling off a long list of things we think God should be doing in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

It’s not that God doesn’t want to hear from us, but often I think what God wants is just for us to sit quietly, submit our will and our thoughts, and just listen.

The book I’m writing is causing me to think a lot about the day to day presence of God. I have never had such a strong sense of the presence of God in my life as I did during those three weeks in the hospital waiting for my son to arrive. Yesterday I caught myself thinking “I wonder what I could do to go back to that place – to once again sense God’s presence in that way.”

God has a sneaky way of responding when we ask questions like that. Yesterday I read two books that, ostensibly, have nothing to do with prayer, and yet the topic of prayer showed up in both of them. First I was reading Lit, a memoir by Mary Karr that tells the story of her journey from alcoholic agnostic to sober Catholic. When she joins her first twelve step program, she has great difficulty submitting to a Higher Power. It just doesn’t make sense to her. Gradually, she learns to get down on her knees and submit. Gradually, she is transformed and she no longer has to fight the battle of addiction alone.

After finishing Lit, I picked up A World Waiting to Be Born by one of my favourite writers, M. Scott Peck. It’s a book about civility, but lo and behold, there’s a whole chapter on prayer. Peck says that when people ask him how he manages to be so productive in his life, his answer is “I spend 2 hours every day doing nothing.” Three times a day, for 40 minutes, he sets aside all other distractions and spends dedicated time in prayer/meditation. He credits his success as a psychologist and author to the fact that he submits to his Higher Power for direction and wisdom.

Two books in one evening telling me I needed to pray more. I got the message.

This morning, after the house was empty, I climbed into the bathtub and decided that would be my prayer time. Lying there, taking deep breaths, I said “God, I open my mind to your presence.” And then I lay there, open and waiting. Well, these things don’t come naturally, and just like my running practice, I know that I have to put in the day to day effort before something becomes natural.

Here’s a little how my thought process went. “God, I open my mind to your presence. Hmmm… perhaps if I picture setting a lovely table, complete with flowers and pretty dishes, and invite God to sit with me…. oooh… I ┬álike that… wouldn’t that make a lovely blog idea? I could prepare a guided meditation for people about how to invite God’s presence…. oops… I’m slipping into meta-praying – thinking about praying instead of doing it… Okay, let’s try this again… God, I open my mind to your presence. Come sit at my table and dine with me…. Hmmm… I better make this quick. I’ve got lots of work to do. I have to prep my teaching notes and mark all those papers and…”

Yeah, you know how these things go.

But at least I’m trying. And maybe tomorrow I’ll get a few extra seconds in before my mind wanders again.

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