January 05, 2005

Learning to Pray (Again)

OK, so it was probably a good idea for me to get a head start on this prayer thing. I need the practice. So far, I've spent my ten minutes in prayer only about every other day. I guess that's OK, since the big "Year of Prayer" my church is participating in actually doesn't start until Sunday Jan. 9, but I'm not sure I'll do much better then.

Part of the problem for me is figuring out what really counts as prayer. A message sent out from my church's regional office says that prayer is not a "thing," but a state of being. I also like what a character in a Ray Buckley story said about prayer: "'I believe,' he said, 'that when I gather food, it is a prayer. I believe that when I smile at someone I see, it is a prayer. I believe that when I touch a child, or feed my horse, or go to work, it is a prayer.... When I do anything that brings joy to the Creator, it is a prayer.'" And then there's this, by Rabbi Harold Kushner: "Prayer is not 'talking to God' so much as it is using words and music to come into the presence of God in the hope that we will be changed by doing so."

Sometimes I pray at night, when I'm laying in bed and the lights are out, before I fall asleep. Sometimes I think about praying then, but fall asleep before the prayer actually comes. Working out is a good time for prayer; I find that when my body is active physically, things sometimes clear out in my mind, and I can focus on my prayers.

Then again, I think that sometimes the problem is that I'm not really sure my prayers "work," especially prayers that are formulated while sitting in my office, or reclining in a chair inside my house. If I take five minutes to pray for the tsunami victims (for example), while sitting in a comfortable chair in my warm, dry house, is such a prayer sincere enough for God to respond? Or is God instead waiting for me to respond? Maybe God is already doing his or her part, and is waiting for me to do mine, and when my prayer comes while I'm sitting comfortably in my living room, God just laughs at the absurdity of it. Or, maybe God has already made up his or her mind; after all, God knows a lot more than I. But that's something I don't really believe, that God's mind is already made up and can't be changed. A lot of people believe that everything happens according to God's will, that it's all a part of God's "plan," but if God has everything all planned out, then (to quote a seminary professor of mine,) all our prayers aren't worth a damn.

Maybe it's just that when I pray with words, but continue going about my own life, it's me that I have trouble convincing. If I pray for the tsunami victims, but haven't done anything to help, then I know that my prayers are nothing more than words that are there one moment, and, like a morning fog, disappear before noon. Maybe the Rabbi is right. Maybe if I want my prayers to change God, I need to first allow them to change me.

...I promised a story about a fish. That story has turned into a sermon, but I'll still publish it here when I'm finished.

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