Today’s gospel lesson comes from Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, which the gospel writer devotes three chapters, we hear the core of Jesus teaching to his disciples. In yesterday’s lesson we hear Jesus warning about practicing piety before others and then He begins a short discourse on prayer which continues in today’s lesson.
Jesus says: “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” In other words, keep it simple. One of the most common problems people have in their prayer lives is that they don’t know how to talk to God. They either feel their words are inadequate or that they have to be prepared and have their prayer ordered as if they were going before a judge who might cut them short for their ineloquence. But this is not the case. Psalm 139 says: For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well. My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them. God does not need us to explain, for He already knows us deeply for He is our creator.
A friend of mine recently asked me to sum up in one word my experience thus far as a monk. My answer was ‘prayer.’ I explained that from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, my life was saturated with prayer. She looked at me a little daunted and asked how I came up with so much to say to God. I think that is the common misconception: that we are the only one who is supposed to speak. But prayer is reciprocal and believe it or not God sometimes wants to initiate the conversation. As big as God is, the conversation will sometimes begin in the smallest and simplest of ways….through the beauty of a flower or a strain of a Beethoven symphony. It could be through the cry of an infant or an epiphany that is born out of sheer silence. All we have to do is listen to how God is beginning the conversation and we will then know how to respond.
If you’re in a bookstore or library, you will find hundreds of books on prayer: “How to” manuals, contemplative prayer, lectio devina, praying with scripture, theological treatise, the list goes on…..it can seem so complicated and overwhelming. But I think author Anne Lamott says it best. She writes: “I do not know much about God and Prayer, but I have to come to believe, over the last twenty-five years that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple. Help. Thanks. Wow.” (1) I think this is what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel. Keep it simple.
At the beginning of Leonard Berstein’s Mass, the celebrant sings: “Sing God a simple song, lauda laude. Make it up as you go along, lauda laude. Sing like you like to sing. God loves all simple things for God is the simplest of all.” (2) Keep it simple!
1 Lamott, Anne. Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers. New York: Riverhead Books. 2012. Print
2 Bernstein, Leonard. “A Simple Song.” Lyrics. Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers. Sony Music Entertainment, 1971
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