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I’ve been praying a lot lately. This year seems to necessitate it. So it made me wonder about the physics of prayer. As you can see, I have more questions than answers.

Where do prayers go?
Do they fly up (heavenward we presume),
light as smoke, hot as steam, invasive as air?
Or do they fall like pennies in a well,
clanging heavily to our own contrite feet?
Do they spread like infections, permeate
the walls of cells and shift us into changelings,
wrought new, wondrous — or press our carbon selves
into fledgling diamonds? Are they silent, a secret
message written in code, that God must dab with lemon
to reveal…or are they heard by saints and sinners,
by forebears and old foes (“look, she’s praying for that again;
I’ve seen this one in reruns, sis, it will never happen”)?
Do they twine like ivy, growing up and out, riotous, uncontained,
or cling, packed tightly, like lichen to a rock?
Do prayers pop on contact or linger long,
so we wade always through a fog of prayer,
a pea soup of petition, a swamp of want?
Or do our hallelujahs make neutral painful pleas,
an acid added to a base, water in a cup to drink
and bless us? Is prayer eternal as our God
or as fleeting as ourselves?
Perhaps it is like poetry:
The best of it remembered,
the rest, a moment’s fancy,
read by a single reader.

sock-monkeysLast week, one of our readers, Michel, asked me something important.  “Is praying asking God something? Is not simply to talk to him, to feel in him?”  I reread my post and realized that if you didn’t know me, you might very easily think that I only prayed when I wanted something. In my heart, I know that prayer is much more than a chance to ask God for something.

While prayer does give us the opportunity to ask God for help or guidance, it is also a chance to simply talk to him, to be heard, to share what it is that concerns us on that day.  But prayer is also a conversation and our opportunity to hear God’s words directly to us.

That’s a tough one for me.  I often comment about my monkey mind.  More accurately, I probably have a “monkeys” mind.  Not one monkey but many monkeys, screaming and swinging through the trees.  My mind is quite frequently more than a little chaotic.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways that I can calm my mind enough to hear God.  I walk.  I practice yogic breathing.  I color.  I knit.  I follow a local labyrinth.  And I listen.  These are all part of my prayer life.

The reality is that I don’t really need to ask God for anything.  He knows what is in my heart, both what I want and what I need.  He knows what worries me and what scares me in the dark of night. I don’t truly need to ask Him for anything or tell Him what is on my mind, but I do.

Why?  Because prayer is a chance to reorient myself toward God.  Prayer reminds me to look to Him, to listen for Him and to bask in His presence.

Even if my mind is a troop of screeching monkeys.


Perhaps the last thing the world needs is another poem about prayer. The masters have tackled the subject, from Christina Rossetti to George Herbert to Milton. And yet the subject is never exhausted. Why? Because prayer has special significance and meaning to each of us. We continually find new means of prayer, new ways of reaching out and touching God. Hopefully, we will never lose our fascination with prayer.

need and praise
forced out like air from a drowning man.
Comfort and itch,
solace and sword
(Lord, smite my enemies
because they are mine!).
Swift warbled chorus,
threads in a tapestry;
poorly baked pudding
imploding under the weight
of unworthy eggs.
Tower and sinkhole, both.
Sincere as the wail of an infant,
prayer ascends. Where does it go?
There are two possibilities, equally ridiculous:
That we are shouting at the sky, dumb with clouds,
placid to our panic
that God hears it all.
We are answered enough to know
it is the latter.

prayer isMaybe it’s because I’m co-teaching a class on prayer, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what prayer is. At one point, I could have given you a seven word answer. Prayer is when you talk to God.

That was then when I thought I knew.

This is now when I realize how much to learn. At this point, I realize that prayer is at least four different things.

1.  Prayer is when you talk to God.
At its most basic, prayer is when you talk to God. It is a time to tell God what you are worried about and what you need. Sometimes these things are for yourself, but sometimes they concern other people. Whichever, prayer is both a time to sing out in joy and to unburden yourself. Prayer is a time to talk to God.

2.  Prayer is when you listen to God.
Prayer isn’t just a time to talk. Prayer also involves silence, a time to shush up and listen. What does God have to say to you? You may actually hear God speak. You may feel a nudge in a certain direction. Or God may send a messenger to call you to whatever it is God wants you to do. When the response comes, however it comes, you may miss it if you’re busy talking. That’s why prayer also involves silence.

3.  Prayer is when you look to God.
Prayer isn’t just talking and listening. It is also a time to reorient yourself and look from the world and all of your earthly concerns to God. It is a time to contemplate who God is and what he wants from you. It is a time to consider the many gifts, including Grace, that he has given you. Look to God and when you turn back to the world you will see things differently.

4.  Prayer is when you lean on God.
Admittedly, there are times when life has worn you down so completely that you won’t have words to speak to God in prayer. You don’t know what to say. Instead, you lean. Leaning can take place any time you pray, but during difficult times, it may be the beginning, middle and end of your prayer time. That’s okay. God’s there for you, even when you don’t know what to say, are too sorrowful to hear, and are too broken to look up.

Speak. Listen. Look. Lean. Prayer is all this and more.



Have a Mary Little Christmas

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