Reflections On Prayer

In a world that appears to consider action as far more important than contemplation, the value of prayer may seem questionable.   Would it not be a better world if we got up off our knees and took concrete action to alleviate the countless ills and injustices that surround us?   Such an attitude suggests that contemplation and action oppose each other.   In truth, one without the other can leave us going off in all directions running on empty or simply living in our own spiritual cocoon.   We all know the phrase describing the person who is "so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good."   We also know countless examples of burnout from good works done without the foundation of a deep life of prayer.

Prayer is not an escape from the world.   Rather, it is allowing our heart and mind to be shaped by the presence of Christ so that we are able to cooperate with his ongoing redemptive work in the world.

True prayer is always about God's activity in us and through us.   The more attentive we are to God through Christ, the more conscious we become of the pain and suffering of the world. Rather than being overwhelmed by the needs around us, or becoming cynical about our ability to do anything, we pray to learn how to respond.   We pray to be given the courage and will to respond in love and faith.

Prayer thus directs, nourishes, and sustains our activity in the world.   It keeps us in humble awareness that we are called to be channels of God's grace and compassion.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was a member of a church which received a large bequest of money.   The list of uses for the money was long - both for maintenance and outreach.   The faith community decided to seek God's direction through prayer, on how best to disperse the bequest.   For a year, people gathered once a week to discuss possible uses and pray for direction.   It was a year of profound transformation for the church as members came to a deeper understanding of stewardship and their part in manifesting the love and compassion of God in concrete action.

The Virgin in Prayer by Sassoferrato

The Virgin in Prayer
by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato
(1609 - 1685)

The National Gallery, London

What Is Prayer?

"The lifting of the heart to God" is a very simple definition of prayer. In a few words, it reminds us of several important truths about prayer.   Primarily, it reminds us that prayer has to do with the heart, the centre, the very core of our being.   Prayer arises out of our essential being.   It is a gift from God that enables a continuing relationship with our Maker. In this definition, prayer is not thinking about God or even talking to God, as much as it is turning our whole self to God, simply paying attention to God's abiding presence.

Secondly, lifting our heart to God suggests that you and I do not have to "get" God's attention, nor do we pray to "get God going" on our behalf.   When we turn our whole heart to God, the reality we discover is that God is already and always present to us.   Our relationship with God cannot be broken, says St. Paul "nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus" - but the relationship can be ignored, or forgotten, or doubted by us.

Prayer as attentiveness to the Divine Love places you and me in a conscious act of receptivity to the Love which created and sustains us.   We know the experience of being set free, healed, forgiven, and renewed.   Such words only become real when you and I lift our hearts to God in prayer.   Only then do we know what we are called to do for others.

Why Pray?

Talking or writing about prayer might be compared to talking or writing about brushing your teeth.   Every Christian does it so what is there to say?   But like so many aspects of our Christian journey, an exploration of prayer takes us deeper into God's love for us and widens our knowledge and love for God.   A deeper love for God naturally manifests itself in service to God's world.   And so prayer is one of the ways we as Christians participate in the healing, reconciling work of God.   It is also one of the ways we keep our eyes fixed on the alternative vision of human life that Jesus came to show us and into which his Spirit leads us.

Our motives in praying are as varied as our particular life situations: we pray when we are fearful, anxious, or grieving.   We pray when we are thankful, when we are repentant, and when we need courage.   We pray out of habit.   We pray when we "find the time".   When we cannot pray, we rely on our faith community to pray for us.   Essentially we pray out of a deep longing which resides in us.   Often we cannot even name thatlonging.   Whatever motives bring us to prayer, at some point we recognize that prayer is a natural response to God's initiative.   "Thou has made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."   wrote St. Augustine.   Planted deep in the human heart is a longing, a restlessness that only God can satisfy.   God gave us that longing and God gives us the faith, the trust to follow that longing into an awareness of God's abiding presence.   It doesn't matter that we pray for a host of motives.   God meets us where we are and as we are and the encounter with Love which we call prayer gradually purifies our often mixed motives.

Why pray?   Because it is one more measure of God's grace inviting us into the fullness of human life, inviting us into the awareness that we and all creation are immersed in the love of God.

Glenda Meakin, rector of   St James Anglican Church, St Marys, Ontario 1996-2000

Prayer
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The Christian Ring Saint Francis
of Assisi
Arms Open Wide
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