Praying Without Words
Throughout my career as a pastor, I have been asked many times about prayer- how it works, the best way to pray, etc.
I'm not an authority on prayer by any stretch of the imagination, even though I have been praying for most of my life and have served in churches as a "professional Christian" for over twenty-five years.
In fact, the longer I serve as a pastor, the more I realize just how little I know about the efficacy of prayer. I've seen people pray fervently for healing or restoration, and none comes. I've also seen plenty of prayers seemingly answered in miraculous ways.
To be honest, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.
What I have learned, however, is that praying is important and is an integral part of a life of faith. When we pray, we open ourselves to connection with God and others. We enter into the flow of the Spirit that can enable us to find peace in troubled times and solace when we are filled with despair.
Prayer also gives us the chance to think deeply about whatever it is that we are praying for or about. Our petitions to God are also statements to ourselves; more often than not, we become the answers to our own prayers.
I could go on, but I want to focus today on the most uncommon type of prayer for most of us: silence.
Sitting in silence to quiet our minds, bodies, and souls is one of the most challenging things for us to do in our current culture. But when we engage in silent meditation, we are able to spend more time listening than speaking.
Author and artist Joan Chittister once wrote:
Even most of the praying we do is noisy. We say prayers; we seldom sit in the presence of God and wait. The very thought of simply listening for the whisper of the soft, still voice within is not only rare, it is uncomfortable these days. Shouldn’t we be doing something, our souls shout at us. Shouldn’t we be going somewhere, doing something, at least saying something holy?
I have to say, Chittister's assessment here hits home for me. I know full well what it feels like to try to sit and listen for God's still, small voice within me, only to find myself distracted by the noise around me, the demands on my time, and more.
I also know what it feels like to be able to sit in silence and feel the deep connection to the Divine, to have the world slow down around me, to let the noise dissipate into the background.
Perhaps you know this, too. To put it plainly, I think there's something of this in all of us.
Some of us know what it's like to sit silently in a hospital waiting room, praying so fervently that the noise around us fades, the other people in the room disappear, and it's just us, our thoughts, and a feeling that somehow a voice is speaking to us.
Others have sat in the woods and let the glory of Creation envelop us as we silently take all of it in, lost in our thoughts, connected to God.
Maybe some of us have had those moments of silent connection when we are driving on a long trip. As we drive in silence, watching the road ahead and the scenery around us pass by, we may feel something within us stir as we connect to the Spirit.
We all know this feeling at some level. The trick is to find ways to allow the noise around us and within us to fall away so we can sit and listen.
May your prayer life expand into silence this new year. May you discover new ways to experience a connection to God. May you hear the still, small voice within you that leads you forward.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. Amen.