Sunday, May 29, 2011

Prayer Walks; Prayer Talks

“The person of prayer is not a person of private agendas” (Joan Chittister)*

What is prayer?

Is it the desperate call of last resort to One who is everywhere? Is it the recitation of set words over and over again, in a meditative state of relaxation? Is it the ongoing conversation in our heads with a Divine being that we neither see nor touch? Is it the emotional ecstasy provoked by beautiful music and fellowship? Or is it the quiet flooding silence of knowledge of being in the presence of God?

Prayer of course is all these things. Intensely personal, always soul-building, prayer is often a neglected practice in today’s world. We may forget that prayer is the embodiment of our lived connection with God at all times, not only in the pews.

And this is key: prayer cannot be disconnected from life and action, from justice and peace. Though prayer can provide comfort, it can never become idle and selfish, nothing more than a panacea to personal pain, deaf to the pain of creation.

Prayer walks. Prayer talks. Prayer emboldens us to follow conscience, take risks, suffer ridicule, for the sake of God, for the sake of humanity. Prayer drives us to speak for truth and act for peace. Prayer lives in heart, mind, soul and body, calming us, driving us, bringing us together. One world, one God, one beating compassionate heart.

A dull prayer life reflects a dulled life, one separated from the condition of one’s neighbor, one living for the self, not the community. If we feel no need to pray, could it be because we have detached ourselves from the unpleasant problems and issues of our world? Could it be that we have turned away from the poor, the marginalized, the needy, the forgotten?

Martin Luther King Jr knew this. So did Gandhi. So did Mother Teresa. We all search for meaning in our lives, but too often we look only within. We need to do both, seeking the presence of God within, and the presence of God in a world where the voiceless are relentlessly crucified by violence and greed. We cannot do otherwise. When we find something outside ourselves to care about, something to work for, not for personal gain but for the good of all, we find prayer easy, necessary and fulfilling.

What might that be? Food for the hungry? Shelter for the homeless in our community? Peace in the Middle East? Nuclear Disarmament? When we pray meaningfully we find ourselves drawn to help build in some small way the Kingdom Jesus described in the Beatitudes, one where the poor, the mourning and the hungry are truly blessed.

Prayer brings us inner peace, and urges us to spread peace, to be a voice for eternity, for love, for all that is truthful and meaningful in our world.

*The Breath of the Soul, Novalis, 2009

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