Prayer is what links the spiritual and the religious, the inner and outer parts dimensions of life. – Joan Chittister, “Called to Question” pg. 44
Chapter five of “Called to Question” is a reflection on prayer. Chittister tells the story of novitiates in the convent becoming weary of the busyness of life – from chores to worship to chores to worship -no time for ones self was exhausting. The old nuns would laugh as they told the story of women leaving after six months of this busyness because they could get no rest. Chittister says it took her years to get the “joke” to understand why the old nuns laughed in telling the story.
Prayer, for the novitiates who left, was work, an intrusion into private time. But for those whose life is centered in prayer, prayer is time resting in God.
It seems to me that one reason people don’t come to church is because it takes too much work to get ready, to drive or walk over, and to sit in the pew for an hour. It’s too much work to pray.
Part of me truly understands that. I can be that way too. The more tired I am, the more busy my life is, the more I just want to sit. Or read the newspaper. Or drink a cup of coffee on the deck and watch the birds. I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything.
And yet, as Chittister acknowledges, over time the prayers we pray shape and form us. They are the entryway into God. Prayer reminds us of who we are and whose we are and links us to a deep cosmic eternal truth.
I remember having a debate one year with a parishioner. It was an email debate in which he worked hard to argue his point about the “TRUTH.” (and the truth did not include ordination of gays and lesbians…). I wrote back long arguments for the wide expansive loving nature of God, in which all of humanity is an expression of God.
Eventually I grew weary of the debate. It was, after all, pointless. He was never going to change his mind, nor was I going to be persuaded by his argument to change mine. I finally ended the debate with a request that he take the matter into prayer and let it resonate in his hear instead of his head. Shortly afterward he left the church. I was heartbroken that one would choose to leave a community one loved just to follow a doctrine in the pursuit of some kind of certainty about the specificity of TRUTH.
It seems to me that much of my struggle with faith, spirituality, religion, practice, and prayer has been about the degree to which I can manage the tension between certainty, truth, and ambiguity.
I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen years old. I am now 55. How I practice daily meditation has changed over the years. What my intention is when I meditate has changed over the years. Since about 1997 my daily meditation has been my time of prayer. I enter into silence and spend about thirty minutes in that space. Some days the time flies by, other days I am restless and struggle. But most days I am drawn to those thirty minutes like I am drawn to a cool drink of water. It sustains me and nourishes me. I have no idea exactly how or why. It’s not like anything amazing happens or like I leave the time of meditation with grand epiphanies. Most days I leave the meditation time slightly tired, at first, and then greatly renewed in energy. I like to think it enables me to be more thoughtful, to listen better. I certainly think it helps me be better than I would be otherwise – so the effect of meditating is relative to who I am.
I usually meditate in the afternoons. I usually spend some time in the morning reading and writing – prayer time to start my day. Often I begin my day by reflecting on a poem. Here is one of my favorite.
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
another voice may speak.