I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer lately. There was a time in my life when I prayed a lot. Formal kinds of prayer–sometimes in community, but mostly alone. I spent a lot of dedicated time, literally on my knees, sometimes on my face, praying aloud, praying in silence, praying throughout the day. Prayer was a big part of my daily routine.
These days my prayer life looks much different. You wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at me, but I pray all the time. There is no formality to it, no posture that I assume, no particular format to my prayers. When I first heard of the concept of prayer as a conversation with God, I was–pardon the expression–in heaven. I always wanted a God I could talk to, so this notion sat very well with me. And let me tell you, I have quite interesting conversations with God.
Of course they are mostly one-sided–I do a lot of the talking, and while I do pause to listen (I don’t ramble on and on, my conversations have purpose) I don’t often hear a response. I’m alright with that. For me, the benefit of prayer is not that I get something or that something happens (though that is nice). The benefit of prayer lies in what it does to and for me. I find great comfort in my conversations with God. Yes, I am often asking God for something–it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that I don’t–but it isn’t all about that for me. More than half the time my prayer is quite simply, “Thank you, God.”
I thank God a lot and for all kinds of things. The beauty of the sunrise or moonrise on a given day. The heavens captivate me and speak of the wonders of something vast and unknowable…hmmm, like God, perhaps. Prayer sometimes helps me get clarity. It allows me to name an issue, to put it out there where I can look at it. “God, help me understand what’s happening in ___ situation. Help me know how to respond.” And when I finish my prayer, whether it takes a minute or an hour, it still comes back to “Thank you.” This brings to mind the quote from Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
During these 40 days of Lent, I think the prayer is about connecting to and understanding the nature of suffering. We are preparing to commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus, and that is part of it. But for me it is also about connecting and relating to the suffering of the people around us, and those people around the world. Jesus helped ease the suffering of the people around him. Other faith traditions also help us open with compassion to the suffering of others. And so we do.
It is through this opening of ourselves that we are plugged into the collective faith of people of all beliefs. Prayer brings about personal and collective transformation. Sometimes it’s big and radical, but more often than not it’s quiet and simple. And I am grateful for it. It is another part of our journey of these 40 days, to deepen our conversations with God and our connection to the people around us. And so in the spirit of community, of compassion with and for those who are suffering, in thanksgiving for the gifts we are given every day, and for so many other reasons, let us pray.