Several years ago I was asked to give a talk about some of the qualities of good prayer. One quality I spoke about was this: Good prayer is incarnational.
I began with this story told to me by a Deacon in Maine. One morning his son Zachary, age 5, was sitting at the kitchen table eating his cereal and gazing out the picture window into their spacious backyard. He asked his mother, “Mommy, where is God again?”
She said, “God is everywhere, Zach. God is in the trees and the flowers and on the deck.”
He asked, “Is God under the deck?”
“Yes,” she said. “God is under the deck too. And the best part of all, God is in you and God is in me.”
Zachary thought for a moment, and then he said, “Wow! That’s a lotta God!”
Good prayer celebrates the presence of that “lotta God” in our lives. As Catholics, we believe that God is present in a special way in the bread and wine at every Mass. But there’s so much God, God is also present in the proclaimed Word, the homily, the prayers, the singing, the silence, and (most importantly) in the people gathered to celebrate Mass.
But God is present beyond the Eucharistic table too. God is present in all people, the ones who delight and help us as well as the ones who annoy us and try our patience. The ones who look and think as we do, and the ones who look and think so differently from us, they scare us. God is present in creation, in our air and sunlight, our trees and squirrels, our crickets, whales, oceans and stars. And God is present in the historic events taking place right now: the global pandemic, the countless men and women serving those in need, our country’s strivings for racial equality, our efforts to curb the pollution of our planet, the current world-wide refugee crisis, and so forth.
God is present in our world, then, not merely theoretically, but concretely. God is present incarnationally. A corrolary of this fact is this: our prayer must be incarnational too. In the words of Father Ronald Rolheiser, we have “to put some skin” on our prayer. But how do we do that?
Recently I saw a movie about Audrey Hepburn. I was familiar with her great acting ability and her beauty, but I didn’t know about two traumatic events she suffered as a child in Europe during World War II. First, her father abandoned her when she was about 9. One day he just got up and left. She never saw or heard from him again until many years later as an adult. And second, she experienced that horrific winter of ’44 when millions of people in Europe (many of them children) had little or no food.
At the height of her fame, Hepburn left movie making for ten years. Why? Because the glamorous Hollywood life kept her apart from her children. In a way, being a “movie star” was causing her to abandon her children. So she walked away from that glamorous life. In her final years, Hepburn became the spokesperson for UNICEF, using her fame to raise millions of dollars for starving children all over the world. The movie didn’t talk about Hepburn’s prayer, but to me she is an example of someone who put skin on her deepest concern, namely, needy children.
We are called to pray for ourselves, our families and friends, our country, and our world. But we must put some skin on those prayers. If we pray about the health of our planet, what specific actions are we taking to help heal our planet? If we pray for the lonely, is there someone whose loneliness we can ease–perhaps through a simple phone call? If we pray for overworked parents, are there any parents we can help and support in some way? If we pray for world peace, how can we bring peace into our own little world by the way we listen, the way we speak, the way we do daily chores, and even the way we drive? If we pray for our political leaders, can we also write to them to thank them for their service or to call their attention to issues close to our hearts?
Advent is a time when we celebrate the mystery of God’s Incarnation in the person of Jesus. As such, it is a most fitting time “to put some skin” on our prayer through small acts of attention and love.
Did anything in this reflection speak to you today—especially any words or any of the pictures?
Can you think of some ways you are trying to put some skin on your prayer?
Would you add anything to this reflection?
PS: Dear readers all, I’m still having problems with my mailing list. It is NOT working properly, so most of my subscribers are NOT getting my blog on Monday. Our IT staff is working on the problem. For now, you might have to google my blog in order to read it. Google the address: www.melanniesvobodasnd.org OR simply google my name and “Sunflower Seeds” and it should come up. I apologize for this inconvenience.
Our song today is Bernadette Farrell’s beautiful “Love Goes On.” It reminds us that love must be incarnational too!
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