“ I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” - C. S. Lewis.
We don’t pray much these days because it feels like a pain in the ass. Another task or job. Another to do. We’re adults now and we know the truth. We tried it. We prayed for a new bike, for mommy and daddy to get back together, for world peace, for an A in history, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. We prayed to win the big game, and then started to wonder if the other team prayed better…because we lost. We prayed to thank God for our supper, and in our hearts we wondered why God wasn’t giving those kids in on that Save the Children TV commercial a better supper. We grew up and figured it out: the praying we were taught wasn’t right. Because of this, some of us gave God the boot (though, maybe, we still drag our kids to church). And some of us started saying things like, “God helps those who help themselves,” in order to make ourselves feel better about having all the world’s stuff.
Maybe we even still taught our kids to pray, though we ourselves are uncertain why we do it.
But none of that, all along, was prayer. Prayer is not about changing God, but changing ourselves. Prayer is not about changing the future, prayer is about discovering the present.
The question I have is: If prayer is more work, why do it? If prayer doesn’t work, why do it?
Those who have really given their lives to prayer, the ones who ran off to the desert for years of silence, think of prayer as something totally different, and very simple.
Prayer is rest. Restful silence, with ourselves, with our Divine nature, with our God, with our souls.
Real prayer is easy:
- pick a word or phrase that resonates spiritually with you.
- sit in silence and alone for a small amount of time in a comfortable position.
- slowly repeat the word/phrase in your mind, matching it with your breath; eventually, you’ll forget you’re praying, and instead you’ll be settled in a place that can only describe as: “resting in an open heart.”
This is prayer. This will change you, and, remarkably, the world, the future, everything.
Christians often pick the word Jesus, or a short phrase like, “Lord my Shepherd.” Buddhist use the loving-kindness mantra. If you’re an agnostic hippie (which I am on Tuesdays), why not try the word “tree.” My current prayer is “Divine Love,” a bit ethereal sounding, but it feels very expansive and open to me, encompassing my belief that if God is out there, She’s part of a web of Love and Compassion we create for our world together.
Now go pray and rest and be happy.
*I’m indebted to Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart for sparking these ideas.