Week 6, Day 1: Prayer as Connection
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
- Mary Oliver, “Praying”
In Luke 11, after seeing him pray, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Even after decades of following Jesus, this sentiment resonates with me. I am always, still, learning how to pray from Jesus.
Jesus prayed. He prayed after he was baptized, and the Holy Spirit came upon him; he prayed before choosing his disciples; when crowds came looking for him, they often found him in deserted places, praying; he would often withdraw to pray, spending nights on mountains or getting up early in the morning; he prayed on his own and he prayed in the presence of his disciples. Prayer was important — indispensable, in fact — to Jesus. It was at the core of his being; it was the source of his connection with God and his power. But what is prayer?
Prayer is connection with God, both conversation and communion. It is both communication — asking and listening, hearing and responding — and simply being together, resting, being still in one another’s presence. Just like you need to both talk to and listen to someone you’re dating or married to, so also we need to both talk to and listen to God; but sometimes being together is enough, being in each other’s presence is enough.
We read a couple weeks ago about how love loves to invite the other person into a shared experience of life. So prayer is how we enter into God’s experience and how we invite God into ours — we share with him our burdens, our anxieties, our joys, and our dreams, and we listen as he reveals his presence and shares his thoughts with us. We come to love the things that are dear to those we love because they are dear to the ones we love.
The goal of prayer is to cultivate a relationship with God, which will play itself out in our ability to joyfully experience God’s presence in all of our life and work. We pray because Jesus prayed, because prayer is our line of communication with the Source of life, and because if we are to have any hope of living as fully as we were made and experiencing the truly good life, we need to be connected with our Creator, with our Savior, and with the Holy Spirit. We pray because if our calling is to love — to love God, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies, to love ourselves — we need to be connected with the source of love and life. Prayer is that connection. Dom Basil Pennington describes prayer like this:
A father is delighted when his little one, leaving off her toys and friends, runs to him and climbs into his arms. As he holds his little one close to him, he cares little whether the child is looking around, her attention flitting from one thing to another, or just settling down to sleep. Essentially the child is choosing to be with her father, confident of the love, the care, the security that is hers in those arms.
Our prayer is much like that. We settle down in our Father’s arms, in his loving hands. Our mind, our thoughts, our imagination may flit about here and there; we might even fall asleep; but essentially we are choosing for this time to remain intimately with our Father, giving ourselves to him, receiving his love and care, letting him enjoy us as he will. It is very simple prayer. It is very childlike prayer. It is prayer that opens us out to all the delights of the kingdom.
This week, we will learn and practice how to talk to and listen to our heavenly Father.
We do not want to be beginners [at prayer].
But let us be convinced of the fact that
we will never be anything but beginners, all our life!
- Thomas Merton
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: How does the idea of prayer as connection align with or differ from your understanding of prayer? What is more challenging for you: conversing with God or communing with God? Why?
Heart: Think about what practical things mark a good friendship, e.g. hanging out, honest conversations, shared interests. How might those things translate into your friendship with God? What are some of the things that get in the way of you praying? They may be practical (e.g. busyness, distractions, wasting time on other things) or philosophical (e.g. it feels weird talking to an invisible person) or emotional (e.g. tried praying before but God never seemed to answer).
Hands / Pray: Share your thoughts, your feelings, your hopes for the day with God — you can do it out loud or quietly; you can even write them down. Ask God to speak to you — whether about those things or just in general. Then sit and try to listen for a few minutes. Note your experience: whether it was easy, whether it was difficult, whether some miraculous thing happened, whether nothing seemed to happen, whether you felt led to read the Bible or to talk to someone about something.
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Prayer is both
conversation and communion.