Monday, April 21, 2014

Praying

What is praying like, for me?

The short answer is that I talk to God. I trust that God hears me, that God will always hear me, and that God who hears my prayers will answer them.

But that leaves out a lot. That's what praying is, not what it's like, for me.

I close my eyes. Closing my eyes, I feel like I become more open, almost in a literal sense, like the space I'm in with my eyes closed opens up toward God more than when they're open. But it's still my space. It's still inside my head.

I address God. Sometimes with words, sometimes not—like when you walk up to someone you know and just start talking to them. I don't know if I'm actually addressing God; I don't really have any sense of success or failure here. But it is what I mean to do, it is the direction my thoughts are trying to go: to God. And I trust that God who is always present, and who always hears, recognizes the start of a prayer when one happens.

I try to be clear, in my mind, what the situation is that I'm talking to God about. It's not as simple as saying what it is. There's more in my head, more about what it is, out to the fuzzy and inchoate bits around the edges, than I can say in words. But I can think it, because the "this" that I want to talk to God about is in my thoughts, it's in my mind as completely as I know anything about it. And if I'm praying about it, it's the "this," and not any one request about it, that is most important for me to convey to God.

That may sound silly. God, of course, knows far more about anything I might be praying about than what fits in my mind regarding it. But that's a slippery slope. Why pray at all? Wouldn't a good God simply do what was needed in every situation? Too far in that direction, and what you have isn't a god, but a force of nature, a reality of the world that makes prayer irrelevant, because the way the world is, is either obviously what God wants, or God can't do anything about it. And since none of this is true, it matters that I convey to God what I am praying about. It matters that I am clear about it, and that it also comes with all of the fuzziness of my unclarity. It matters that I pray about it, and it matters that God hears me, and will act.

Of course, I also do ask God for specific actions. I'm not sure that's the most important part, and I am absolutely sure that God isn't a wish-granting genie—but if I'm the one praying, and it's important that I pray, then by God I'm going to give the situation the best nudge in the direction of "better" that I can possibly imagine. I know that God, who knows far better than I do, will find the best way to act. But prayer isn't about the optimal thing happening, any more than it's about what I want happening. Prayer is about God caring for us, and us talking to the God who does in fact care for us.

Being me, of course, I also keep rolling the thing over in my mind, and sometimes I take back what I've asked and try to ask something better. When it's a hard thing to pray about, there's a lot of wrestling involved in the praying about it. Not so much with God, as between me and the thing.

There's really no neat ending to prayers like this. Sometimes it's an easier prayer, and it takes very little time; sometimes it's a harder prayer, and it takes much more. And sometimes I simply don't finish praying before I have to do something else.

I also have formulaic prayers. I also do say prayers, in more obviously "normal" ways. And with those it's always a struggle for me to mean them, to make them anything like as deeply grounded in my praying as when I "really" pray. (The liturgy is much the same.) Formal prayers do help, of course. It's useful to have a form in which we say the kind of thing that, on reflection, we're supposed to want. But I feel like formal prayers are more about conforming me to what I should want, giving a shape to my life as a person who prays in this way. That's still praying, but it's a different kind of thing from what I'm trying to describe.

Anyways...

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this meditation. I wonder, since you bring up the issue of written prayers at the end, if praying the psalms ever figures into your practice. What I find is that I often feel incapable of the kind of personal spontaneity that you describe beautifully. In those times, which are pretty frequent, sometimes it helps me just to "swim" in the psalms (and other parts of the Book of Common Prayer), and sometimes I feel a certain peculiar intimacy with God is mediated to me in the words of another.

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    1. Thanks, Scott. I've obviously left a range of things out, here, and I don't mean to denigrate any of it. Nor do I want to come of as some virtuoso of spontaneous prayer. Note that there's nothing here about putting words together well, or praying in public! When I showed this post to my wife, she said, "Well, of course: you pray like you think." This is my version of how an INTP talks to God. But it's not really my version of how an INTP experiences God. I experience God a bit like a boulder experiences the wind!

      I don't tend to pray the psalms, personally. We do it in the Sunday assembly, of course, if one actually prays with the psalmody. And I've experienced liturgies of the hours, and I think I get how they work, but I have to want to pray what the psalmist is praying. I want too much to understand the psalm as scripture before I pray its words—to know more exactly what I'm asking. I certainly read them devotionally, but I think there's a line there somewhere.

      On the other hand, I do find something similar to what you suggest: that in my reading of scripture and theology, whether devotionally or critically (usually the devotional is a bonus added to the critical, for me), I do sometimes get a mediated sense of God. I do sometimes see with them what they saw. At least, on a good day, I like to think so.

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