Prayer is and has always been an integral part of my life. In fact, I am a student of prayer and will be forever, I am sure.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep [;]
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take. Amen.
This was the prayer each of us kids were taught to pray before bed EVERY night by my Mom. Every one of us learned it at an early age; along with learning to talk we were taught to pray. I do not wonder about this strong desire or even need to connect with God by my parents nor in their desire that their children should develop a relationship with God in this way. Our lives as well as the lives of the enslaved peoples before them were rich with the Spirit and the notion of the Divine outside of and within day-to-day existence. (No, Christianity did not bring God to Africa any more than it brought God to the Americas). God was way more than that which men could teach my Mom would be apt to say.
What are your earliest memories of being taught to pray? Maybe it was something you learned later in life. Many of us were taught that prayer was a “conversation” with God; mostly talking with a little listening on the side. Because our parents prayed daily in our sight and out of sight and even throughout the day, we learned that GOD was always near to us. Their way of praying taught us about their relationship with God—that it was REAL, tangible, and hopeful even when it was easier for them (I later learned) to live in despair.
Somewhere along the way the notion took root that prayer was, at the very least, a period spent thinking about GOD and God-ly things. But when St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” I realized I had to re-think that attitude. How could I learn to pray without ceasing? I asked Jesus to teach me to pray in just that way. I was not ready for the answers which have come over many years through many miles of life’s terrain —and continues.
Our beloved Book of Common Prayer calls prayer “responding to God by thought or by deeds with or without words,” and this gives us much more wiggle room than simply conversing with God about this or that. According to the Prayer Book, praying involves doing something—that is, responding to God who is ALWAYS speaking within us. Did you even realize that you do not initiate your own prayers—that GOD does? As Father Martin Smith would say, “paying attention to God’s approach to us comes first. Prayer is primarily attentiveness to God’s disclosure to us….” 1
At some point, I realized that I could include prayers for those I loved or who I knew were having a particularly difficult time, during my routine tasks throughout the day. I could offer prayers while chopping vegetables, attentively and with great intention. This opened the way for me to be able to stir prayers into my soups, into the kneading of my bread, or into planting my begonias on the Sunday before Easter. Have you ever dug in the dirt to plant and suddenly knew without a shadow of a doubt that the HOLY was right there…you could sense PRESENCE?
But what if prayer has an even larger landscape? What if prayer is simply be-ing-in-relationship- with-God? What if prayer is a mindset or an attitude? What if prayer is learning to be in the present moment where GOD is?
I do believe that prayer is the stretching forth of our hearts in desire and longing for something beyond us and within us simultaneously. Prayer is a mystery and a great gift. We humans conceive of ourselves as bodies, minds, and spirits and like the Holy Trinity each one of us is an organism whose parts are in relationship with each other; we are one human being. For me, this means I can offer a dance, song, or even a party in prayer to GOD. It would just be my way of inviting God into the dance or party because we are in-relationship and I am mindful of this present moment…now.
When we pray, we enter into the HOLY ONE of all that is and find ourselves knit together with the Holy Spirit in the communion of the ONENESS of all things—GOD. This understanding changes our entire view of prayer and its place in our lives individually and collectively. And since we are each uniquely and lovingly made, we each carry a special way in which we can use the multitude of prayer practices available to us or create our own either or both to be-with-GOD.
So, as a student of prayer this is what I have learned so far: Everything is ENERGY; Everything is RELATED; We are LOVED…no EXCEPTIONS.
(Smith, Martin L., The Word Is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture, Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1989, p19.)