Momentarily flummoxed, I had no idea why I prayed. But this was a near-emergency—my aging religious faith vs. her budding religious skepticism—so I blurted out, “I pray because I love.” She snorted but didn’t retort, then grabbed a couple of french fries from my plate. After she’d swallowed them whole she grinned and said “Okay to have a couple of your fries, Grammy?” Sassy! And I love her.
So that IS why I pray. I love. I also pray about her, which is to say that she is on my heart daily, along with all my children and grandchildren and several million other concerns from world peace to the barely audible wheeze I’d heard in my lungs this morning.
I remember some priest asked the Presiding Bishop some years ago when she spoke to the diocesan clergy of Massachusetts at our conference: “What do you think about prayer?” (I do think it was a rather saucy adolescent question.) The PB threw up her hands and just said, “Do it!” Later she added that she prayed when she ran.
Public prayer is powerful and recitative. However, personal prayer is a sluicy thing. The assumption behind prayer is that there is a greater power than the human looking out for the universe in kindly, not kingly or silly, ways. When we pray we access and release that greater energy. We call this Mystery by many names (God, Allah, Wisdom, Christ, Adonai, YHWH, and more) and when we evoke it in prayer it is a matter of connection and hope, not control.
No one really understands prayer but many of us do it. There is no one who can’t pray, and probably no one who has never prayed or called out in some way. My own praying makes an art form of wordiness. Yet when I am on a retreat of silence and solitude, after my yammering, I fall into contemplative prayer, which is much the same as breathing meditation: after a while your heart becomes one with the sacred heart. Thump, thump, thump.
In other words, God is Goodness and Love and, in a deeply spiritual way, massages the fabric of earthly life enabling replication of this goodness and love—imperfectly but surely.
Thank god I did not rattle on in such abstract ways to a fifteen year old. But here is what I hope she got:
We pray because we love, because we care.
We pray because people and things matter to us.
We pray because we seek faith and because we have faith.
We pray with certainty and we pray because we don’t know.
We pray because we seek God as God seeks us. Prayer is more mutual than we think.
And as Christians, we pray because Jesus prayed.
The psalmist in Psalm 119:9 (Pamela Greenberg translation) declares:
Prayer is muscular. According to Benedictine monastic, David Steindl-Rast, OSB, the antidote for exhaustion is not rest but whole-heartedness. Whatever you do, including pray, do it with all your heart-muscle. Thump. Thump. Thump