"Prayer: Attending with openness to God and the world"

Reflection on Prayer 

 By Ron Matross   

I find it difficult to write about prayer because I often find it difficult to pray.  Sometimes I'm disheartened because the things that I most fervently pray for don't happen--my lab tests look bad or my friend dies.  At other times, I'm doing structured prayer like the Daily Office, and my mind wanders off.  And sometimes I'm busy and I just forget to be bothered with the chore of prayer.  

But there are times, despite my stumbling language and my skeptical and easily distracted mind, when I do feel like I've connected, like I've gotten through to God, and God has gotten through to me.  One day last summer I was standing on the Lake Street bridge, staring down at the river below and feeling rotten. I had broken bones, broken dreams, and a broken spirit.  And that's just what I told God:  "Lord, I'm broken.  I've made a mess of my life, and maybe my family would be better off if I was gone."  No, Clarence the Guardian Angel didn't appear to me, but I did find myself suddenly saying, "No!  You're listening to the negative force.  There is a positive force in this world and you must turn toward it."  I pasted a smile on my face, walked to the coffee shop across the river, chatted with the barista, and started to think about how God was calling me to use my experience to reach out to others.

So, was that episode a prayer, and was God answering me?   I think so.  I don't believe in a clockwork God, who manipulates the space and time continuum to orchestrate the details of my life or the lives of the billions of other sentient beings on this planet or the billions of other planets likely to inhabited by intelligent life.  Stuff happens to us, good and bad, all the time and I don't think God has anything to do with it.   But I do think God is always there for us, ready to speak to our hearts and minds to help us to deal with all that stuff, if only we can reach out and connect. 

Because we're impulsive and self-centered, connecting to God isn't that easy.  Our religious rituals recognize that we before we try to talk to God, we need do things to interrupt our usual thoughts and open the channel.   Muslims physically prostrate themselves at specific times during the day before they start to pray.  Jews recite blessings or thank-you's--some forms of traditional Judaism call on people to say 100 blessings a day! And our Christian rites ask us to confess our shortcomings and to give thanks to God.  Centering prayer and meditation are also ways to get into us into the right frame of my mind to tune out the static and listen to the voice of God.  And our current church art exhibit of sacred places reminds us that our physical environment can help us open the channel, too.

Lately, my best prayers have occurred when I'm on a daily walk, out in nature and moving, what I love best.  They start with gratitude--giving thanks for all the blessings in my life.   Only afterwards do I feel like I've opened the channel enough to start making requests of God. And my requests are not for specific outcomes in my life, because intellectually I just don't believe that God will intervene to make my lab tests good or my children safe on their travels, any more that I believe God will intervene to help the Gophers beat the Badgers.  Rather, I pray for the three things that I know in my heart I have received from God, on that day on the bridge and on several  other occasions.

The first is guidance.  I believe that this force or presence that we call God is directional-that if I am open to it, I will be pointed toward that which is positive and life-affirming and away from that which is negative and life-denying.  The second is comfort--God will bring me peace and comfort, regardless of what I have encountered.  And the third is strength--God will strengthen my will and spirit to deal with whatever obstacles have come before me.  I ask for these things not just for me, but also for my family and others for whom I care.  Maybe I will be part of the way God delivers guidance, comfort and strength to them.

In this season of giving, I believe that these three things are God's great gifts to us, available unconditionally to us if only we can open ourselves to them.  If you wish, you can think of them in terms of the Trinity.  Jesus, the Great Guide, who came to show us the Way, will continue to guide us in our daily lives.  The Holy Spirit, the Holy Comforter, will calm us when we are disturbed and ease our pain.  And God, the Mighty Creator, will share the strength that created the "vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home".

Could we ask for anything more?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  


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