We Brothers often have occasions to listen to people speak about their life with God. It is not uncommon for those we see to begin by expressing regret or dissatisfaction about their inability to pray as frequently or as effectively as they feel they should. “My prayer life has really fallen away,” they say, or “I know I should be praying more but I just can’t find the time.” I am sure that they feel they are being summoned to prayer by God, but the God who is calling seems to be wagging a celestial finger and saying in a blaming tone, “You should be praying, more and better!” While I agree that God is summoning us to prayer, I believe that the finger is not wagging but beckoning. I now think of God as being like a friend I had in school who used to sit in the student lounge. Upon seeing any one of us pass by, he would pat the chair next to him and say, “Talk to me.” Prayer is likewise an invitation to conversation and communion, not a task or duty that we are obliged to carry out. As the author of First John puts it, “We love because he first loved us.” The invitation to pray is an invitation to love, generously given by the One who created us and loves us as no one else can. Prayer is not our gift to God, but God’s gift to us.
When I first began to teach others to pray, it was all about method. I would explain various ways to pray – lectio divina, Ignatian meditation, Centering Prayer, and so on – and offer students a chance to experience these types of prayer. Now when I teach others about prayer, I begin with relationship. I invite them to think of God as One who is deeply in love with them, who is genuinely interested in who they are and in all they are experiencing, who longs to share their lives with them, who hopes they will be moved to love in return. The image of God as Lover is the image I find most conducive to prayer. Lovers long to know one another. They take pleasure in revealing their inmost thoughts and hopes and dreams to one another. They share their burdens with each other, knowing they will be heard and understood. They are willing to speak the truth to one another in love, to be open and honest in their dealings. They respect and cherish one another.
I have come to see prayer as a gift, as something to be received rather than achieved. If prayer is a gift to be received, our stance becomes one of open receptivity, of careful attentiveness to the gift God is wanting to give us in this moment, in this day, in this season of our life. Listening and watching become just as important, or more important, than speaking. Attentiveness and awareness become our watchwords. Where will I find God today? — in the words of a friend? in a verse of scripture that pops into my mind? in a song that arises in my heart? in the sunlight or in a breeze or in a beautiful scene? in the face of a loved one? Rather than being “one more thing” I have to do today, prayer becomes the gift of relationship with God, a God who seeks us out in order to love us, sustain us, help us, encourage us, challenge us, and support us. God comes to us with gifts.
Your Lover beckons to you today. “Come, talk to me. Be with me. Let me be with you.” This is the gift of prayer.
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