What Is Prayer, Really?

I really do have the most interesting conversations in my line of work.  The other day, I talked about meditation and prayer with some folks, as you do.  

The conversation shifted to how difficult it is to meditate or pray so that you let go of your consciousness and, along with it, your worries, anxieties, sense of time, etc.  

We all nodded sagely, and a few of us even looked off into the distance like we had figured out the meaning of life. At that point, I made a confession.  

I told the group that one of the most challenging things for me is that whenever I try to meditate or pray for any length of time, I fall asleep.  I fall dead asleep--the kind of sleep where you drool, snore, and your head bobs around like you're a bobblehead on the dash of a New York City cab. 

You should have seen the relief that came over the expressions of most of the people in the group.  Many of them nodded in agreement.  And one of them said, "Me, too!" 

We all laughed a bit, and then someone said, "I get the purpose of meditation, but I'm still up in the air about how I feel about prayer.  I pray, don't get me wrong.  I just don't know what good it does."  

Others chimed in with their thoughts on the subject. Some talked about the discipline of praying or the need to connect with God.  Others shared that they didn't really know how to pray all that well.  

Interestingly, I'd just read the best illustration of what it means to pray, and it didn't come from a renowned theologian or celebrity pastor.  It came from a poet, Mary Oliver: 

It doesn't have to be 
the blue iris, it could be 
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few 
small stones; just; 
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't  try 
to make them elaborate, this isn't 
a contest but the doorway 

into thanks, and a silence in which 
another voice may speak.  

I loved this poem so much.  It speaks to all of the questions that the people in the group were offering up.  It speaks to the issues that so many of us have when understanding prayer, how it works and what it means. 

Our prayers don't have to be formal.  They don't have to be filled with flowery language or follow a particular pattern.  They also don't even have to be uttered out loud.  

As the poet indicates, prayer is like a doorway---one that we can keep open when we pray in whatever manner we choose.  This doorway allows us to experience a real connection with God and to listen even more than speak.  

And one more thing. 

If you fall asleep while you pray, you might just be tired and need rest.  What better way to find it than by opening the doorway and letting the Spirit hold you while your mind stays fixed on God?  

May these words comfort you today and every day from this day.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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