Prayer swings on two hinges: regularity and spontaneity. In the Jewish tradition, these two hinges are called keva (the fixity of the prayer book) and kavanah (the spontaneity of the heart.)
Let’s look at the first hinge: regularity. Prayer needs to be regular. We don’t pray once a year, once a month, or even once a week. We pray regularly. For most of us, that means daily. Someone has said, “For the child of God, prayer is kinda like calling home every day.” The Trappist monk Thomas Merton put it this way: “Prayer is our daily appointment with Mystery.” That means we don’t pray just when we feel like praying. Prayer is such a need, such a responsibility, it transcends our feelings. Nor must we always come up with our own words when we pray. Our faith has a rich tradition of prayers we can use: the psalms, those prayers we memorized long ago like the Our Father or Hail Mary, the rosary, The Divine Office, novenas, or the prayers of the saints or spiritual writers. (Even a blog like this one might help!)
Some of us set a certain time to pray: in the morning, while driving to or from work, during our lunch break, or in the evening before crawling into bed. Some say they don’t have time to pray—not even 10 minutes. But my friend Bishop Bob Morneau of Green Bay reminds us that each day consists of 144 10 minute segments. He asks, “Is it too much to ask to give one or two of those segments to our relationship to God each day?” Some of us have a regular place to pray: a favorite chair, the back porch, a chapel, the outdoors.
But if prayer is characterized only by regularity, it could soon deteriorate into something very mechanical. We could end up, for example, reciting only someone else’s words instead of communing with God or Jesus in our own words.
So prayer needs that second hinge: spontaneity. Spontaneity in prayer means inner devotion, interior imagination, the heart. We don’t visit a good friend and sit and read them a book. No, we share with them what is on our mind and in our heart. We don’t have to plan our conversation with a friend either nor do we have to choose our words very carefully. No, we can be spontaneous—sometimes even surprising ourselves with what we share. Often we find we have thoughts and feelings we didn’t even realize we had until we are in the presence of someone we love and trust. The same thing happens in our prayer.
In all of this we must remember the purpose of prayer. Rabbi Arnold Wolf reminds us of one purpose of prayer. He says our prayer is not trying to get God “to do as we wish.” Instead, our prayer is trying to “help us wish to do what God needs doing.” Or, as Rabbi Heschel wrote, “Prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives.” Sometimes I modify his words and say, “Prayer is an invitation to God to interfere with our lives.” So when we pray, we must be ready for anything!
Are these two hinges (regularity and spontaneity) a part of your prayer life?
What helps you to keep your “daily appointment with Mystery”?
PS #1: A few weeks ago I wrote about faith and plum dumplings. I even put my mother’s recipe at the end of the reflection. Fran McCreary of Pasadena, California, made the plum dumplings for her parents. Her mother is Bohemian (Czech)/Hungarian. Fran sent me a picture of her parents eating the dumplings. The picture is so precious, I thought I’d share it with all of you:
PS #2: Thank you for the prayers for my retreat! I had a wonderful week of quiet, solitude, prayer, relaxation, and pondering.