Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What is Prayer? Living

This is in some ways both the easiest and most difficult way of prayer. It’s easy because virtually everything you do can be transformed into prayer, and difficult because you need to be conscious of it and also to avoid that which really can’t be turned into prayer.

If prayer is a dialogue with God, then it shouldn’t be limited to short periods of actually sitting down and speaking or listening, but it ought to be ongoing. People often tend not to want to pray a whole lot because they compartmentalize their lives in such a way as to set aside “religious” activities for a certain time and place—and those activities aren’t the most “fun.” But, you know, God isn’t “religious.” To be in frequent or constant contact with or awareness of God is not being religious, it is being real. God is the Ultimate Reality, the Creator and Destiny of all that is real, and without his ever-present sustaining power and love, we would instantly vanish into nothingness! So prayer is life, connection with the Source of life, without whom we cannot even exist, let alone plan our lives as we see fit.

All we do can be an offering to God, a prayer. Some people say “my work is my prayer,” and that can be true, but only if at other times your prayer is your work. Daily activities can only be transformed into prayer if the deep relationship with God that this requires is cultivated through sufficient time devoted to nothing else but speaking and listening to God. What kind of relationship would parents have with their children if, for example, they said: “I work all day to provide for them,” but never spent any time with them? But if sufficient time is spent with them to build up a personal and loving relationship, then your time at work which provides for them will also be a fruitful part of the relationship. So it is with God. Don’t say that you serve Him if you don’t spend any time with Him cultivating a loving relationship. When you do that, however, then your other activities can contribute to fostering this relationship, and all will bear fruit.

We ought to start the day with some sort of dedication of it to God, so that his providence and presence will be manifest throughout, and so that you can be a living prayer, even when your duties are so absorbing that you can’t explicitly say the words of prayer or take time to be silent. Then try to “connect” with God regularly throughout the day. This is not that hard, if only you can leave yourself some sort of reminder. Every now and then, take one minute—sixty seconds—to stop whatever you are doing and re-invite God into your day, your heart, thoughts, and work. This may not seem like much in the way of prayer, but it is quite significant. You are breaking through the wall of your unawareness that makes it seem like God is far away. You are piercing the insulating bubble of the world with all its demands and seductions, and you are letting God in to bring his peace and holiness and divine refreshment. Try it and see if it doesn’t make a difference in your day and in your spiritual life. Then when you return to your time of more explicit prayer, you won’t feel as if you’ve been away from God since your last prayer time.

We have to keep recalling ourselves to the meaning of our lives, to our reason of being, to the awareness of where we came from and where we are going. The meaning of life isn’t mere biological survival, emotional satisfaction, or the pursuit of anything that can only bring ephemeral pleasure or security. We were created by and for God, who has revealed to us that He wants us to have everlasting happiness with Him.

So let prayer be life and life be prayer. When you learn how to stop during the day to give thanks and praise to God, the next step will be to develop the ability to use the Jesus Prayer or something similar frequently throughout the day, so that it eventually becomes a constant, quiet, murmuring stream in your heart, in your conscious and unconscious mind. Then you can even take prayer into your sleep!

Speak to God, listen to God, live for and in God. This is the life of prayer. It’s so much different (and better) than merely “saying your prayers.” It’s being your prayers!