After many years of being told that I needed to pray, to talk to God, to intercede, to listen to God, to know God better, I spent the better part of this last year actually doing that. I didn’t live in a monastery, but I did spend nearly every day in some kind of community prayer or devoted special time to pray on my own. I did everything from recite pre-written prayers to sit in silence to standing outside at night conversing with God aloud to sitting next to Jesus on a bench and talking to him like a dear friend. I’m far from an expert on prayer (indeed, a healthy prayer life recognizes that we will never be anything but beginners), but I think I’ve had a pretty unique opportunity to explore prayer more deeply, the leisure to just pray a lot more than I ever have before.
I’m eager to share all that I’ve learned and experienced. I think I have begun to develop a multi-faceted understanding of prayer from spending time with everyone from conservative white evangelicals (college) to the black church (this year in Durham) to white community folks (also Durham) and most recently from the folks at the CAC, who combine probably a more “liberal” end of the spectrum than any of the others with a strong awareness and inclusion of the ancient prayer practices.
While I’ve mentioned my experiences with prayer several times on this blog, after this Friday, I’ll try and synthesize some of my thoughts on here. For all of you in the D.C. area, I really encourage you to think about coming out to New Leaf Church’s “School for Christian Living,” that begins this Friday and will have 3 sessions this month. I’ll be teaching the first “class” (3 sessions), entitled “Becoming a Prayer.” For the course description and directions/time and location click here.
My hope from the 3 sessions is to try and emphasize the absolutely vital role that prayer is in the life of a Christian. My friend Brother Dunstan, a Benedictine monk, said to me yesterday that he believes that we have been put on earth for the sole purpose of developing a prayer life. That statement sounds absurd to some ears, and is if you define prayer very narrowly as humans talking to God. We need to pray, not because of what it causes God to do, but because of what it does in us. St. Paul says that we are to pray without ceasing, and to put it the way my recent mentor Richard Rohr does, I don’t think he had in mind going around saying the Lord’s Prayer or Hail Marys or any number of other prayers.
The word “role,” above is also an imprecise word. Prayer cannot be merely a tool or an important thing we do. We are called to a deeper spirituality, where we become a prayer, where our very life breathes God in and out always. It’s not just a matter of 20 minutes of quiet time a day, but those kinds of practices are supposed to lead us to a constant practice of God’s presence, “thinking always of God,” is the way Brother Lawrence phrases it. This kind of prayer leads us to an affective (not Effective) relationship with the Creator and generally to a deeper experience of God.
I’ll stop there for now, hopefully to entice the small audience of this blog to come over to the West Hyattsville community on Friday night for my first class. The last two classes will be quite different from the first one, but the goal is to offer three ways/aspects that lead us into deeper knowledge and experience of God.