The disciples wondered how to pray, and asked Jesus to teach them. The gospel of Matthew records the version of Jesus’ reply we know as The Lord’s Prayer. Simple, direct, covers all the bases; praise, petition, and ascribing appropriate glory. Paul says plainly, “Pray continually” or more famously, “without ceasing.” And to the church at Ephesus, he writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…and always keep praying for all the saints.” Jesus told his disciples to pray in secret, to not make a show of it, or the praise they would get from their peers would be the extent of their reward. (Funny word, that. ”Reward.”)
We talk of relationship with God. Do we mean something fundamentally different than our relationship with the other persons in our lives? I have relationships with my wife, my kids, my extended family, my friends, and even those who I meet for the first time on any given day. This is odd to say, but in relationship we exchange energy, we trade in the essences of who and what we are. The clunky word for it is communication. In communication, we offer bits and pieces of our selves, impulsively give or elaborately planned, and this delightful, intriguing exchange anchors our human experience. We attach many values to this process: love, honesty, beauty, kindness, and of course, all of their opposites.
God is unfathomable. But our faith is that He is there. Francis Schaeffer helped me to understand His “there-ness,” His “personhood.” That He has a “character” to be learned and known. Enoch, in Genesis, walked with God, and knew God. Jesus, in his John 17 conversation with God, notes that this is the essence of life eternal…to know God. We of the Judeo-Christian tradition interact with what we call “the Word of God,” a reality the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews says is “living and active.”
In relationship with Anjie, Amy, and Daniel, and all the others of my life, their words mean a lot to me. To listen, to hear not only their word choice and sentence structure, but to listen to the joy in their voice, or the sorrow. Their “word” also consists of body language that tells me in an instant if they are up or down, burdened or lightly moving through the world. I pay attention, and learn much.
All of this is to say that prayer as we often approach it, puzzles me. I’m fairly sure that in many hearts, prayer is puzzle that seems impossible to solve. “God” is a word that points to so many perceptions in our world. We reach out to find, to touch, to connect with, to be heard by, to listen to…the most fundamental reality we can think of. We seek our beginning, our anchor, our destiny. We seek a place to stand as the world comes apart in tsunami, marriage break-up, death of friends, financial ruin, and the multiple despairs that nip at our heels. No atheists in foxholes, someone said, and the basic cry of the human crisis–help!--is perhaps the beginning place of all true prayer.
The impulse to write this entry came from touching a place of honesty with God this morning. Do you ever find yourself praying along, going down the list, in the well-honed groove (whatever that might be for you) yet behind those thoughts are deeper thoughts, other thoughts, thoughts that hover underneath your prayer life, but for whatever reason, those aren’t the bits and piece of your self you typically offer to exchange with God? It’s not that you’re avoiding something, it’s just that to pay attention to this deeper river is often more work than you’ve got energy for. Or maybe you just don’t notice.
This morning, I stopped the “on-top” prayers, and went for the river further down.
Damn me if you want, O God, for not getting it right, but this is all I’ve got. This is what’s on my mind. This is who I am today, and what can I do but be this before You? What do I think but what I think? There is an end to my logic, to my ability to process, to my exegetical skills, to my exposure to the miraculous, the faithful, and the evidence that sends faith into assurance. So, here are my questions. Here are my doubts. Here are the crises facing the people I love. These are the amazing things that I see, and these are the amazing things I hope for. These are experiences that I can’t make sense of. These are the thoughts that threaten to derail me. These are the political issues that make me babble like an idiot. People are suffering here, and the human race seems really nutty in its design. Talk to me. I’ve read a hundred books on how to talk to You, and they all say different things. Advice comes in all sizes and shapes. Candles, music, postures, styles, volume, pace, faith vs. honesty, power of the word, journals, incense, five minutes or an hour, Holy Spirit groaning, leading, healing, an angel language, and public prayer. Listening, paying attention to breath, silence, dancing, prayer walks, the laying on of hands, anointing with oil…all advised with a hope of an outcome that will mean “prayer works.”
Does it work? Do I work? Do You work? What is the work of us together, in relationship, traveling the realities You made for us to walk in together, nutty, heart-breaking, and breathtakingly beautiful?
I tricked you with the title of the blog entry. How to pray? The answer to how to pray is to pray. To be. To speak. To talk. To think. To immerse (baptize) our life in going hand in hand with God through the plain-jane ways of days. I have no idea how to pray, and I pray always.
I enjoyed my weekend with Anjie. We watched TV, worked in the yard, worshipped on Sunday, slept, chatted over breakfast scones, thrilled over our children, laughed with common friends, worried over people we love, and discussed how in the world we’re supposed to help. We trotted out some ongoing struggles, spent some money in support of things we believed in, made some decisions about how to do our schedule this week. We looked forward, we looked back, we looked around. We embraced and kissed, revealed and no doubt kept stuff to ourselves. We talked to God together, said goodbye for a few days as our work calls to us, and we exchanged energy that is all about the faith we have in each other. Not perfectly, not without tension in moments, not without mystery that escapes us, but all in all, relationship that is as it should be, and perhaps a bit more.
Conversation with God. To know what’s on His mind, for Him to know what’s on mine. His will for me, my will as it interacts with His. His freedom moving with mine, and mine with His. Life from life, word from word, action from action, I metabolize whatever He gives me moment-to-moment, and we talk again. As Paul, in all kinds of prayers, in all kinds of ways.
I cannot hide from the One I want to know. I cannot hide from the One I want to know me. I’m trying to be done with any such hiding. I fail, but I try.
How to pray?
Maybe it’s a little like writing. Put some blood into it…