June 26, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Prayer Practices: Learning to Listen

A few months ago, Rev. Whitney presented an adult formation session on prayer practices between services. She talked about prayer practices. I took it all too literally and thought to have a prayer practice that one had to get on one’s knees every night before bed, or set aside a regular block of time in an easy chair and the Bible or some text by a learned theologian as the subject of silent contemplation and personal reflection. By those measures, I don’t have a prayer practice and wasn’t likely to get one. Now I have come to realize the real lesson that Rev. Whitney was trying to teach was that there wasn’t just one or two ways to have a prayer practice.

Sometimes I talk to myself in my head. For years and even decades, I thought I was talking to myself because the voice in my head sounded like me. As I have come to listen more closely, I realize that the familiar voice isn’t my voice at all but the Holy Spirit telling me it’s okay to complain when times are tough, just not to give up, and to recognize and relish the good times with gratitude when I am mindful enough to notice those everyday little things; a gentle breeze, a pretty flower, and a cheerful greeting from a friend who is obviously glad to see me.

Now hearing voices, well one voice anyway, might sound disconcerting but I’m never told to do something at all. The voice just listens and is encouraging and comforting and even a real cheerleader when that is called for as well. St. Francis of Assisi is widely associated with saying “pray at all times, use words if necessary” or various variations but no historical record can be found of this quote prior to the 1990’s. Regardless, I find myself thinking and praying in little microbursts frequently. Sometimes, it’s more like a wave of feeling rolling over my body. Other times, it’s a word or phrase. Once in a while, it’s more of an internal monologue. What I find is that the more words I use, the less of a sense of immediate feedback I receive!

Anne and I travel a lot and when we go into the incredible ornate churches or even other non-Christian houses of worship I feel called to pray. In some ways it’s a nice break from being on one’s feet sightseeing but in other ways because it’s quiet and contemplative, it’s easier to string sentences together into paragraphs into complete thoughts. I don’t really understand why this happens but I’m grateful to be able to sound a little bit more eloquent to myself than usual. My real or imagined eloquence is for my own sake because God doesn’t care if I’m eloquent or can only manage a thought or feeling, nor does God care if I pray for 10 minutes or 10 seconds or 10 milliseconds. If I pray enough to feel connected, comforted, and supported, then that is good enough for God. By Rich Stein

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