The other morning, as I sat down in my bedroom chair at 5:15 and began to pray, I thought: Is the world a better place because I begin every day by sitting in this chair and praying? Am I a better person because I pray here every morning? Does my time in this chair make a difference? Is it worth it?
At first, I’m tempted to say no. After all, my prayer time doesn’t do anything to alleviate the sufferings of humanity, does it? My prayer time doesn’t feed a single hungry child. It doesn’t mend one broken relationship. It doesn’t comfort one tormented person. It doesn’t help clean up one polluted river. It doesn’t provide employment for one desperate job seeker.
I’m tempted to think that my prayer time might be better spent doing something tangible, something helpful. Like what?
+ like researching some serious problem in the world and helping to come up with a solution.
+ like volunteering somewhere—anywhere.
+ like crocheting afghans for the needy, writing a spiritual best seller, drawing a religious icon, composing a love song the whole world could sing.
+ like making tapioca for the two Sisters I live with.
+ or even like cleaning out my sock drawer.
In short, I’m tempted to think that my prayer time would be better spent doing anything rather than sitting here in silence day after day…pondering Scripture… rummaging through my life seeking traces of the Divine… trying to speak to a God who sometimes seems so far away or even non-existence.
But despite these thoughts, here I sit today. It’s where I sat yesterday. And it’s where I plan to sit tomorrow. Praying. Saying words that sometimes aren’t even my own. Other times sitting, wrapped in a silence broken only by a chirping bird outside my window or an occasional car passing down the street. Why do I persist in praying? Is it merely a habit I cannot break?
No, praying in the morning is much more than a habit (though it is that too). Maybe a little story will help clarify one reason why I persist in praying every day.
Years ago, during the Vietnam War, there was a man who stood in front of the White House night after night with a candle, often alone. One rainy night a reporter stopped to interview him. He asked, “Do you really think you’re going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?” The man replied, “I don’t stand out here to change the country. I stand out here so the country won’t change me.”
I truly believe that praying makes us more able to withstand the temptations of our age, those cultural practices and policies that go against the Gospel we cherish. And praying does more than that. It anchors our life. It is the place from which we reach out to life with compassion, courage, wonder, and hope. Sometimes praying needles us, telling us where changes must be made in our lives. Someone has said that praying is like calling home every day. Or (in the words of Thomas Merton), praying is “our daily appointment with Mystery.” When we pray we are saying, “God is so important to me I will set aside time each day to communicate directly with this Incomprehensible and Precious Being.”
Praying may not be practical. It may not be exciting. Yet praying is one of the most worthwhile things we do with our time. For during prayer we may find ourselves saying things like these:
God, I’m here. If you wish to tell me something, I’m listening. If you wish to move my heart to do something, just go ahead. I’m ready… God, I believe in you, help my unbelief… God, I love you, help my lack of ardor… God, I want to love others, curb my selfishness… God, I long for a better world, heal my cynicism and despair… God, I wish to be grateful for all your gifts, mend my lack of appreciation… God, I love you. That’s why I’m here…praying. Amen.
This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The song I’ve chosen is called “One Spirit, One Church” and was written by Kevin Keil and Mary Ann Quinlivan, OSU. (Kevin is married to Chris, one of my former students—and a faithful reader of this blog!) This song incorporates the traditional hymn “Come Holy Ghost” with this more contemporary refrain:
We are a pilgrim people; we are the Church of God,
a family of believers, disciples of the Lord.
United in one Spirit, Ignited by the fire
Still burning through the ages, still present in our lives.
Is prayer worth it to you?
How do you pray? In other words, what seems to work for you?
Do you have any thoughts on this song or the feast of Pentecost?
PS: Please say a little prayer for a presentation I’ll be giving Wednesday, May 11 at Holy Angels Church in Bainbridge, OH. I will speak on Psalm 23 at the women’s “Spirituali-Tea.” Thank you!