January 7, 2012
my church, I pray with and for countless folks, people I don't even know. I have prayed discreetly with strangers in grocery stores, and with friends on street corners. I can't say I respond immediately every time I get nudged from Above to pray, but I wish I did. Missed opportunities like these, for me, always end in regret.
I have studied the prayers of the bible (a highly worthwhile use of time), and have read many books about prayer. As I read Psalms every day, I am taken with David's unabashed honesty in praying. Based on these studies and my own experience, I am convinced that prayer is more about spending time with God than anything else. There is not one perfect way to do it, although humility and honesty certainly increase depth of fellowship. As closeness to God has become my goal in prayer—as opposed to getting things—I find have less to say. Prayer is a conversation, not a monologue... and, as Jesus reminds us, God knows everything, anyway. Sometimes there is no need for words at all. Deep calls to deep.
We don't have to explain anything to God, but I don't think he minds much when we do. I like hearing my ten-year-old tell me about his day, even if I already know the basics of what went on, and I'm sure God is no different. He probably laughs when we suggest solutions to our problems, but again, I doubt there is a demerit system in place up there. Sin separates us from him, so prideful prayers won't be effective—pride is the root of all sin, sin separates us from God, and separation is the opposite of closeness. Still though, I think God is pleased with our sincere attempts to spend time with him, no matter where we are in our understanding of the process.
Sometimes I feel God calling me to prayer in the strangest places. Usually this is brought on by an abrupt silence. Take Dollywood, for example. Did you know there is a tiny country church smack in the middle of that boisterous, joyful Tennessee amusement park? I stumbled upon it a few summers ago. It was still and tranquil inside, a slice of heaven surrounded by tons of whirling rides and shouting children. Walking through the doors into that oasis of peace was awe-inspiring. I prayed in that church. Oh, how I prayed.
The same thing happens in smaller ways all of the time. For example, often I find myself alone in our tiny neighborhood gym. It's basically a cellar full of old Nautilus equipment. In the silence of that room, I am called to pray. So far no one has walked in on me, but when it happens, I'm hoping my gym-mate will think she's stumbled onto a session of yoga practice. (Oh look, she's doing child's pose!)
The day after Christmas, most of my family, gathered in Savannah for the holiday, goes for a hike at Fort Pulaski National Monument. A brisk wind is rushing over the marsh—chilly, but refreshing. While on the palm-lined path to Cockspur Lighthouse, I summon the courage to confess to my atheist brother that I pray for him every day. I have been dreading this chat. Traditionally he bristles at any mention of Things Divine. Not this time, though. I am heady with relief, flushed and breathless. We catch up with the rest of the group and make our way into the fort. I notice an entrance off to the side of the main passageway, a room cut into a huge mound of earth. Alone for a moment, I decide to enter. It is a magazine, full of (empty) power kegs. The noise of the windy day is hushed the moment I step inside. The stillness is surprising and hugely, wonderfully welcome. In the sudden silence, I hear a heavenly invitation. In response, I pray. "God, please help my brother. He is so unhappy. He needs you. And help me to love him as much as you do." Hearing the voices of meandering tourists approaching on the path outside, I know my moment has ended. I leave the room, satisfied.
A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” ~ 1 Kings 19:11-13