Mystic Mondays February 6, 2017
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
I don’t quote a lot of scripture in my blog, partly because the world of spiritual truth has come to me from so many places in recent years–chance encounters, something I overheard at the checkout stand, and other wisdom literature besides the Bible. I also don’t quote scripture a great deal because my readers are an eclectic bunch of folks–some who keep the pews warm on a regular basis as well as those whose “church” is on the beach, in the mountains, or sitting with a friend over a good glass of Merlot.
But there is one line in this passage that tells a story of my own spiritual development–“Pray without ceasing.” Quite honestly the “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances” is still baffling to me. I am too much of a believer in calling sadness sadness. And some things are just too damn painful and ugly to be thankful for.
But this whole “pray without ceasing” thing is starting to make sense to me. Years ago (okay, decades) the only context I had for understanding this line came from my rather narrow view of prayer. I thought I knew what prayer was. Prayer was that time when you sat with your head bowed while the pastor droned on with a whole laundry list of requests. Prayer was the “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food,” that we rushed through before dinner at youth group meetings. Prayer was anything that was said after the words, “Dear God…”
Funny thing has been happening in recent years. With the exception of my professional role as a pastor those types of prayers are decreasing in use and a different kind of prayer is increasing. While the admonition to “pray without ceasing” felt at one time to be a kind of impossible goal that only cloistered monks could even attempt, today I see it as a possibility. A far off possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.
Prayer for me has become less an act of talking to God (or whatever Spirit floats around this Universe) and more of a constant attempt to align myself with the Soul of Life. This is all going to sound rather New Agey and ethereal, but I know of no other way to describe this shift I can feel in my body and soul. Prayer is becoming more about my attempts to enter into the reality of Life, a reality that often lies under the surface of the actual words and messages we send. Prayer is a disposition I hold toward the hours of day rather than an activity I have to add to my day.
Somehow the words prayer and presence seem deeply wedded to each other. The more I approach a situation or a person with a prayerful attitude the more I feel present. The vice versa is also true. The more I try to be deeply, emotionally, and soulfully present to another person the more the encounter feels like a form of shared prayer.
I am coming to experience that prayer is not an act of trying to talk to God as if God was on the other end of a phone call. Prayer is not a request I shoot up to the heavens. Prayer is beginning to feel like lying in my lover’s arms-where no words need be spoken, knowing glances are shared in a delicious intimacy, and hearts beat as one.
And what’s amazing–and why I am beginning to believe that this whole pray without ceasing thing is possible–is that that intimate feeling with Life is possible anywhere anytime. It doesn’t have to just be before a meal, in a church, or at the foot of one’s bed. It doesn’t have to begin with any particular prescribed words. Often it is as simple as taking a few really deep cleansing breaths, shedding the layers of crud from our mind and heart, and entering the deeper reality that is before us.
I used to believe that one could not pray without ceasing because there were other things to attend to as well. How would I ever shop and spend time with friends and exercise if all I did was pray? How would pay bills, make a living and take care of my house if I spent all day in prayer.
But now I don’t see it that way. Prayer doesn’t compete with the activities of life. It deepens them. Prayer is not an extra activity to add to life. Prayer is the sacred window through which we look at life.
Pray without ceasing. And if that is too much for you, then just take a really deep, cleansing breath, and then another, and another, one after another, all day long. Breathe until your breaths turn into prayers. Then don’t stop.