What is Prayer?
Prayer from the heart can achieve what nothing else can in the world. - Gandhi
We do not want to be beginners [at prayer], but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life! - Thomas Merton
Prayer is a pilgrimage into the deepest recesses of our being. It is being attentive to God’s active presence both with us and within us. The 15th century Indian contemplative Kabir wrote that “God is the breath inside the breath.” The Apostle Paul quoted the philosopher Epimenides as he sermonized the Athenians: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” God is that energy and power and inspiration that we draw upon to live and thrive.
Prayer is the intentional practice of marinating in the Love that holds the universe together: the Love defined by the unique blend of Divine compassion, forgiveness and suffering service culminating on the cross of Jesus. This Love is at the very core of our being because that is where God resides. Prayer beckons this Love into our daily lives. Deep breaths in solitude and silence remind us that Love fills our lungs and our life, not only sustaining ourselves but exhaling into subversive acts of compassion, forgiveness and suffering service to others.
Prayer is visualizing a whole New World where greed, hatred and suffering no longer exist. Like the world-class athlete who stills her body and mind to proactively imagine the upcoming race, pioneers of the New World mindfully cultivate a strategic and creative gameplan. In order to do ordinary things differently, we think through our upcoming day, infusing it with generosity, forgiveness and a disciplined simplicity that transcends corporate consumerism. God’s Dream For the World doesn’t just happen. It’s not about passively waiting for the Divine Miracle to come. It’s about pledging allegiance to the New Reality and boldly living into it.
Prayer is a pause to take inventory of the addictive patterns that autopilot us. My workaholism and achievement orientation keep me from breathing in the Love that fosters liberation, growth and nourishment. When I bind my anxiety and the chaos of life by overfunctioning or caretaking or obsessing over the approval of mere acquaintances, I spiral into a netherworld of dehumanization. I counterfeit the man I was created to be. The pain and woundedness of my past are too haunting to face…so I repress them by escaping into banal comforts or performing at work to gain acceptance. Prayer is the process of taking responsibility for my own pain. It is a subversive tactic that allows me to sit with my (real) feelings, to tell myself the truth about the world and refuse to counterfeit myself with illusions & trifles. And then to say confidently with St. Francis: “I am who I am in the eyes of God: nothing more and nothing less.”
Prayer is actively pledging solidarity with the wretched of the earth. It is the act of opening our eyes and our hearts wide to the suffering and oppression of the rest of humanity. Prayer is ecological not egological. It enfolds narcissism and indifference and apathy into a passion for turning the world upside down with the Love that created it and remains at the very center of it. This empathy breathes in a hope that will turn weeping into dancing and ensure that the meek will inherit the earth.
Prayer is an expression of gratitude for food, work, relationship, play and justice. It is the sincere overflowing of joy for what Life has bestowed upon us. It is the realization that millions in our world work harder and love better than we do, yet do not have 1/10 of the freedom or resources that we possess. Real gratitude leads us to groan for a New World to emerge: one that brings hope and healing and happiness to every living creature.
Prayer is a stone thrown into a still pond. It is the ripple effect of Love into a world yearning for healing and redemption. It is yeast and the mustard seed. It mysteriously rises and grows out from us. It is the flap of a butterfly’s wings on one continent that can change the weather on another.