“We are creatures who are lost and confused, trapped in the maze of our own little view of the world, and the only way out of that maze is the lifeline God offers us…Prayer opens our eyes. Prayer illuminates our minds, enabling the love of God to permeate all that we do.” – Daniel Wolpert
Here’s what I know: When the doctor’s reports refer to your two-year-old as “malnourished,” and when he’s vomiting (again), and refusing to eat (again), when the doctors’ appointments and the therapists’ evaluations recommend a new system for eating, a new medication, a new calorie-heavy product to try or to stop trying, when you think you cannot face another day of begging your child to eat, and telling yourself it is not my fault when he doesn’t get the 200 calories he was supposed to get this morning, because you tried (because you used the vibrating mouth tool, and the cheesecloth trick, and made the elephant puppet sing about how yumminess of the bagel with cream cheese), when you aren’t sure if there will ever be a day you won’t wake up afraid for his beautiful, tiny body; that’s when prayer is breath.
Desperation often clarifies the why of prayer. I’m learning I pray not to let God know I’d really like some help over here (God knows, I’m sure), but to train my own eyes to see the help already available: the presence of God’s spirit in the kitchen, at my son’s highchair, holding us both.
Lately, it’s been helpful for me to think about the spiritual life as a movement toward or away from the presence of God. If Jesus is a dot in the middle, and we’re all arrows positioned at different places, spaced at varying times further and closer to the holy bull’s-eye, what matters isn’t how close we are to the middle, but whether or not our arrow is pointed toward the center.
What prayer does is reorient our arrows toward the presence of God. It reminds us what direction our true life comes from. It turns us from the darkness to the sun. It helps us shift and lift our faces from the anxiety or grief, the uncertainty or monotony, the desperation or maybe just the boredom of our lives, toward the One who holds life in its completeness, its fullness.
I’ve written a lot about spiritual practices. I wrote a whole book about prayer and searching for the rhythm of God’s presence in the midst of life with my older children when they were babies. And even then, with all the spiritual formation books on my shelf, and the book I’ve penned, I still sit down to an uncertain silence each morning at six am. I have coffee in hand, and a calendar of child therapies, doctors’ appointments, after-school activities, and writing deadlines flashing inside the glowing screen of my phone. The all-consuming demands of my schedule can be terrifying. So can the silence of God when I sit down to pray.
How do we hold our daily demands and our longing for God in the same hand? How do we become people who are daily reoriented to the presence of God? How do we pray?
I used to think of prayer as a kind of lifting up. My thoughts and requests and fears rising up to a God in the atmosphere. Incense. Spirit air. Now I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t more of a tunneling down. Down, beyond the false parts of me. Past the posing, past the worries, past the fears, and into the space where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been digging around all along. The part that’s real. Vulnerable. The me God has always intended I be.
Perhaps that’s when our words to God become prayer. When we begin to let the Spirit of God tunnel down in us. When all our requests are welcomed by a God who is unafraid of the future, who holds our desires with kindness.
This piece begins a new series around here. Once a month I’ll share about my experience with a different prayer practice, and invite you into the practice with me. But we won’t be praying just to pray. We’ll be praying because we need help because we don’t have it all together, because we are the doubters, the weak in faith. We are the ones who desperately need to live from a place deeper and more alive than our greatest fears and our stubborn to-do lists. We’re going to pray together not simply to change our situations, but because prayer transforms us in the midst of our situations, whether they change or not.
You and I are going to pray because this life is beautiful and terrifying and God is not just in the atmosphere, but already tunneling inside you to reveal the beauty and the hope.
I’m not sure I have the answers of how to pray any more than I have the answers to how to feed my child. There is hunger, there are tools, there are allotted times and opportunities to practice.
And, hopefully, there is the mystery. When we arrive at the silence and find ourselves reordered, reoriented, our arrows once again pointing toward the reality of God’s presence, whether we feel distant or near to that presence, I think we’ll find mystery.
We’ll tunnel down together into the mystery, and discover a loving Creator who is already building something beautiful within us, receiving us, transforming us and the world around us.
What I want you to do is join me. Okay?