Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Life Lived in Prayer

As we enter the season of Lent I would like to draw our attention to the call of a particular Lenten discipline: prayer. We are called to a holy Lent which is the result of a number of disciplines--the first is prayer and the last is meditating on God's holy Word - Jesus Christ as revealed in the scriptures (BCP 264ff). I believe it is through the discipline of prayer and meditation that we are transformed and may better serve and bear witness to God's mercy in our lives.

I have a long and winding prayer journey with God and with Jesus. I first learned to pray the Lord's Prayer as a child. I remember that most of my prayer life as a child was as a petitioner and was most likely egocentric; but those are the beautiful prayers of children. I can imagine that God smiles at these prayers.

Adolescence brought prayers of sadness, joy and gratitude as I lived a somewhat difficult teenage life. These would lead to prayers of discernment about ministry. I learned to pray the Daily Office while in college and was introduced to daily mass. I studied prayer for a semester under an American Orthodox seminarian. He taught me meditation and contemplation. We read and sat together quietly. His name escapes me now but his ministry and mentorship provided a life-long lesson of sitting still with God.

I also was introduced to private confession during this same time, which has continued. I experienced the discipline of daily chapel and Morning Prayer in a deeper sense while I was chaplain at St. Stephen's School, Austin. This was reinforced at Virginia Seminary and today the Daily Office is my daily companion. When I left seminary I toyed with the Franciscan tertiary order but eventually landed on the Society of St. John the Evangelist as a support for the prayer life on which I had come to rely. I began to develop a rule of life, which I continue to this day.

Today, this takes the form of sitting quietly daily before I read Morning Prayer. I follow the ordo (liturgical) calendar of the Society of St. John, so I am praying within community each day. I pray for the clergy of the diocese by name throughout the week. I pray for my staff, along with a list of concerns given to me. I pray a prayer based upon the ordination service for a bishop and read (along with the scripture appointed for the day) a portion of the Archbishop's reflections on the ministry of bishop.

My prayer life has been healthy and sometimes it has not. There is an ebb and flow as I look over the years; however, as I get older my dependence on this daily routine continues to become more deeply rooted. I am out of sorts when I do not follow my daily feast of quiet, intercession, thanksgiving and meditation on God.

As I think back, I think the most difficult work of prayer begins after the conversation has gone quiet--meaning when I have forgotten to pray. After long periods of silence from my end of the connection, or in those times of deep questioning, I find it so difficult to know just what to say. I also remember how difficult it was to begin prayer. I remember it was hard as a child. I remember it was hard as a young adult. Perhaps we place too many expectations on prayer. I guess it is a human thing, but I can get so focused on praying "right" that I forget the sustenance of prayer, which is most often in the deep well of silence or in the questions themselves. I wonder if you find this true as well.

It seems so many people, ordinary people like myself, have a hard time knowing how to begin to pray. Richard J. Foster in his book entitled Prayer, offers a useful reminder for us all. "We will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray rightly. We simply must set all these things aside and begin praying. In fact, it is in the very act of praying itself--the intimate, ongoing interaction with God-- that these matters are cared for in due time. What I am trying to say is that God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are."(R. J. Foster, Prayer, p. 8) So, I encourage you to begin or to begin again for the first time.

Find a comfortable, quiet place where you might pray daily. Write down a list of those for whom you would like to pray. Will you use written prayers from a book, the Prayer Book or other sources? Place them near by. Will you use a rosary? An icon? Set up your place and make it your deliberate place to be with God. Then go there each day. Go and be with God and open your heart to his companionship in your life. Sit quietly. Use words of prayer. Pray the Lord's Prayer. Pray a portion of scripture.

I encourage you to sit and be with God. Begin again, perhaps for the first time, a conversation with God. If you have a rule of life, dust it off and recharge it with committed time to follow its precepts. Pray, pray, pray. For it is in praying that we are truly transformed to be a witness of Jesus Christ. It is in prayer that we are humbled by the abundance of God's grace.

One of the prayers that I pray every day is the General Thanksgiving prayer at the end of Morning Prayer II, (BCP, 101). Along with thousands and thousands of Christians around the world each morning I pray, "give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service…"

I hope you might join me in daily prayer and service this Lent and, with me, rediscover our conversation with God.

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball