Or: Never judge a book by the outdated author pics on its back cover.
I have read a fair amount about prayer in the past couple of years; I had had some sense of God’s wanting to grow my heart and mind in the way of prayer, and so I gave it some of my attention. My attention to prayer has been in reading about prayer and in practicing different ways of praying. After all that, and as with most things in life, I’m convinced that I’ve learned far more from the slow, gradual discipline of practicing prayer than from reading about prayer. That said, I found the following thoughts on prayer to be very helpful, encouraging, and affirming. They’re from a book written by Barbara Metz & John Burchill and published in 1987.
I hope that they might also encourage you along the way, as you continue to learn to pray! Each quote is followed by my own bit of color commentary.
Prayer is presence to the presence of God…
I love the visual picture of “presence to the presence.” Similarly, I have found myself re-defining prayer or worship as simply “giving attention to God.” By this definition, my depth of fervor does not matter so much, nor does the length of the prayer. The simplicity of “giving attention to God” relieves me of the pressure to pray a certain correct way and to avoid incorrect ways. The ongoing language of “giving attention” encourages practice: prayer/communion with God is not unlike every other relationship in my life – it needs regular “giving attention” if it is to survive and flourish.
When we pray, we respond to the invitation to come close to God, to stand in God’s light. In that light we come to see ourselves, others, and the world from God’s viewpoint. This coming close has serious implications for our personal, interpersonal, and social lives. What we see, if we are willing to brave the light, penetrates deeply into the core of our beings… The moments of greatest communion with God are often accompanied by an experience of terrible newness… Many of us hide from God in prayer.
“If we are willing to brave the light…” I found this idea very encouraging because it named the vulnerable feeling (together: the goodness of being known and the terror of being known!) that I have often experienced in my practice of prayer. (I have experienced this both alone with God and with spiritual friends as we confess our deepest liabilities and diseases to one another.) It also reminded me of the greatest barrier to prayer / intimacy with God: hiding. Hiding is my knee-jerk reaction to the terror of being known, but it must be resisted if I am to know God more and to let Him have access to the parts of me that still need transforming.
We can learn a great deal about our ways of being before God from our reflective awareness of our interpersonal relationships. We relate to God as we relate to others….
In so many ways, God is simply another Being with whom I regularly interact. As our Love for God is connected inextricably with our Love for others, so too is our being known to God connected with our letting ourselves be known by others. (Yes, God already knows everything about us, but our mutual potential for intimacy is limited insomuch as we hide our liabilities and diseases from Him and from ourselves. Likewise, our potential for intimacy in interpersonal human relationships is limited insomuch as we avoid admitting and addressing conflict or ways we hurt or misunderstand each other.) So, am I actually practicing prayer when I’m opening myself up to other humans? And is my practice of prayer with God alone actually improving and deepening my human relationships? I think so. Yay!