Not long after I returned to church, I made an appointment with the priest. I had a question that needed to be asked and I was sure he was the one with the answer or at least an answer to my question. As the hour of my appointment approached, I got more and more nervous. How would I ever ask my question? Could there be a question more foolish than mine? For half of our scheduled time, I circled around my question. We talked about what drew me back to church; we talked about the places in the liturgy where I felt closest to God; and we talked about things I just didn’t understand and words I just didn’t get–words like faith and grace and love. Finally I found the words to put to my question. “How do people pray?” I asked this priest of mine. Then I went on. Prayer–my prayer–seemed so contrived. My babbling at God. My whining. My asking. Always asking. Always talking on and on. “This can’t be all there is to prayer,” I said more as a question than a statement.
He taught me another way to pray–the silent prayer of the contemplative. What a shift for a chatty extrovert! At first I could only sit quietly for five minutes. Over time, I came to savor my silent time with God. For many years it was the way I started every day. A cup of coffee, a lighted candle and a quiet time with God. I added the readings of the day as a way to frame my prayer. When that got stale, I turned to the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer and their daily meditations. Then one day, I ran across a short meditation by Howard Thurman. I was hooked. I began reading one of his meditations before I sat in silence. I let the words work their way into my soul. I was sharing the silence with my friend God and my friend Howard Thurman.
I began to wonder if I’d asked that priest the right question. Perhaps it wasn’t the how of prayer that was stumping me. Perhaps I had a different question that needed to be asked and addressed and maybe even answered. “Just what is prayer?” I wondered to myself. Sometimes to others too. Most often just to myself. Truth be told I was a little embarrassed to even ask that question. Prayer–could it be a matter of focused, intentional engagement with God? Does it ever have to cease? “Pray without ceasing”–isn’t that what Paul urged his followers to do? Maybe prayer is really just like pushing the pause button and nodding to the holy before your eyes.
LOOK WITH ME AS TOGETHER WE PUSH THE PAUSE BUTTON: