As we enter Holy Week, I share a few thoughts on prayer – not because I know so much about it, but because I don’t know enough. What I do know is that I need prayer as I need air or water. Prayer enlivens and sustains me, like breath, or the beat of my heart.
Consider this from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“If you knew the gift of God!” The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts: his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. -CC#2560
As a child I knew lots of prayers, but not yet the potential of prayer beyond recitation or petition. God was very real to me, though I had no concept of prayer as dialogue. In my teens and twenties, horseback riding alone with nature made conversation with Jesus seem quite reasonable. I wish I had been a better listener. Later, as a mother, bedtime prayer with my four small girls began “Thank you, God, for a lovely day.” They were then encouraged to ad lib, and occasionally to write their own prayers in a little notebook.
There was a time for our family when life grew dreadfully complicated and exhausting. It became very difficult for me to summon the easy awareness of God that I had counted on, the peace and strength my Lord had provided me. Intentional prayer and regular interaction within my church community had been displaced, and in retrospect I see that it was I who was not sufficiently present to him.
For too long I remained among those for whom prayer is squeezed somewhere into a far too busy life, nearly an afterthought. Some years ago I became a determined earlier riser intent upon a quiet twenty or thirty minutes for prayer as the day approaches. This makes all the difference. As my day progresses, I find other small pockets of opportunity. In pausing briefly, if only for a minute, I honor my awareness of Jesus’ presence within and around me, expressing love and gratitude for all of it. Sometimes a deep longing pulls at me to find a place of quiet and solitude when this is not possible. I thank him then too, confirming the reality of the bond without which I would be lost.
Prayer is essential to me. It expands my relationship with Jesus, deepens my love for him, and changes who I am. At my best I open my heart, and listen carefully to his heart, already open for me. A more disciplined prayer life helps me to better live my faith and conform my will to his rather than disappoint the One I love and intend to serve. As confidence in my commitment grows, my attitude in prayer evolves. Then, I was wary that Jesus might ask too much of me, maybe even everything. Now, sometimes, I worry that he might not. I continue to pray for the grace needed to yield to whatever comes. A work in progress, always.
In the Gospels we learn prayer from the Master. Think of our Lord’s own prayer in the garden as his Passion unfolds on Holy Thursday.
Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed.
Prayer is communal, enriched by the presence of others, even when the prayer itself is not shared. Communal, even if our companions are distracted, or asleep. How often have we been the same in some way? Prayer is communal.
Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him.
Prayer can be intensely personal, an intimate one-on-one sharing, as it is here between Jesus and the Father. Prayer is personal.
Prayer is honest. Authentic prayer reflects our experience as real people who feel genuine grief and fear and pain. We keep no secret from God. Prayer is honest.
When he returned he found them asleep. Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing.
Prayer is persistent. No matter what we pray about or pray for, dialogue brings our lives to the Lord and the Lord to our lives. We encounter holiness and are drawn into relationship with our omnipresent God who satisfies our deepest longings with himself. Time in prayer is precious, even if the answer is long in coming or not what we’d hoped for. Prayer is persistent.
Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”
Ultimately, prayer is surrender. At its best, prayer leads us to acceptance, and the sincere gift of ourselves to the One who holds nothing back from his Father or from us. Prayer is surrender.
There is no shortage of opportunity for a disciple to follow the Master.