I was thinking about prayer the other day. (I confess: it’s often easier to think about prayer than it is to pray!) And I was thinking about some metaphors for prayer. (Whenever I’m musing over metaphors, I’m in good company, for Jesus was a master of metaphor: “I am the vine… fear not, little flock… the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet…”)
Anyway, here are two metaphors for prayer that I came up with—neither of which is original to me: sniffing and sifting. They are based on the fact that the Kingdom of God in our midst is not always obvious; God’s presence and action in our life is not always readily perceivable; truth, beauty, and goodness in our daily life are not always visible. So we must sniff out the kingdom. And we must sift through the stuff of daily life to find God–or (as the title of one of my books puts it), we must rummage for God in all the nooks and crannies of our lives.
Many years ago I heard a priest say, “We must all develop kingdom noses.” He meant we must go through life sniffing for God’s kingdom. To demonstrate, he walked across the stage with his nose up in the air, sniffing. It was an unforgettable sight! Though we may not actually see that Kingdom, we can catch its scent—and the scent alone can both sustain us and direct us.
Think of all the times you’ve detected the aroma of something you love. Perhaps as a child, you came into the house after a strenuous afternoon of playing, and you smelled chocolate chip cookies baking. You didn’t see the cookies, but the aroma was enough to bring a wide smile to your face. The scent alone may have even influenced your behavior. You thought you had to be good to be worthy of those cookies. And the aroma was a kind of promise too, of “perfect joy” in the future! So too, good prayer brings deep joy. It affects all our decisions and choices. It constantly reminds us of God’s promises.
Prayer, then, makes us more attentive to the aromas of goodness all around us: compassion, gentleness, courage, joy, beauty, loving relationships, heroic generosity. Prayer can also help us notice what “stinks” in life (greed, hatred, dishonesty, war, poverty, divisiveness, violence to our planet). But good prayer helps us detect the aromas that will eventually lead us to lessen or even eradicate life’s bad odors.
Then there’s prayer as sifting. When I was a little girl I liked baking cakes from scratch. That meant I had to sift the flour. When I asked my mother why I had to sift the flour (it seemed like such a bother), she said sifting would remove any lumps in the flour. And it would make the cake lighter. Similarly, prayer can remove the “lumps” in our lives. It can make our journey on earth a little lighter.
Another image of sifting comes from the old westerns I used to watch on TV as a kid. The cowboys sometimes sifted for gold. They’d pour the dirt on a screen and shake it back and forth. The dirt went through the screen leaving behind clumps of dirt and pebbles. But sometimes what was left behind was a bright gold nugget! Prayer helps us to find the gold nuggets of life—genuinely good people, kind acts of strangers, a line from scripture that speaks to our very soul, the incredible mystery and beauty of our earth community.
Today, let us pray for “kingdom noses.” May our sense of smell be like that of the little beagle who keeps his nose to the ground in hopes of picking up a “heavenly scent.” And let us pray for patience as we sift through all the “stuff” of our daily life in search of that precious Gold Nugget of Divinity.
Did either of these metaphors speak to you and your experience with prayer? If so, how?
What other metaphors for prayer do you like?
Jesus was a “master of metaphor.” Is there one of his metaphors that you especially like? If so, which one and why?
PS: My new poetry book is out! Titled Picking Strawberries: Prayer-Poems to Nourish the Soul. It contains 61 poems and it can be purchased from Amazon.com for $12.95. (I don’t have any copies to sell yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.) I want to thank Kathleen Glavich, SND, for formatting and publishing the book for me. She is an incredible writer and editor–and a dear friend!
PPS: I’m giving a Zoom retreat July 13-19 entitled “How Can I Keep from Singing?” It consists of 12 conferences. For more information, go to: www.kingsretreatcenter.org or call (618) 397-0584. This is the Belleville, IL retreat center that is sponsoring this retreat.
Our song today is Carrie Newcomer’s exquisite song, “Holy as the Day Is Spent.” In simple word and picture, the song underscores the theme of this reflection: daily prayer keeps us in touch with the sacredness of the ordinary and the everyday…
I invite you to respond below to the reflection, readers’ comments, pictures, or video. We love hearing from you!