Take it to the Lord in prayer
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.-Matthew 7:7,8
Truth be told, the longer I’m at this business of faith exploration, the more mysterious prayer seems to me. I so appreciate that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, They needed help. Me too.
I feel like I spend a fair amount of time praying, or at least trying to clear my monkey mind so that I can pray. Truth be told, I know I’m often just mulling things over in my mind, a conversation with myself. I sometimes wonder if my prayers go higher than the ceiling. I can forget that my prayers are addressed to someone.
For that reason, I’m grateful for teachers like Thomas Keating, a monk and priest who helped people focus on centering prayer in a world that is definitely off kilter. He spoke of the importance of the contemplative life, of a prayer life, of placing one’s self in the presence of God. Keating cited St. Teresa of Avila who wrote: “All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent.” Keating adds: “This is the conviction that we bring with us from early childhood and apply to everyday life and to our lives in general. It gets stronger as we grow up, unless we are touched by the Gospel and begin the spiritual journey. This journey is a process of dismantling the monumental illusion that God is distant or absent.”
From another branch of Christendom, I’m mindful of the hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus.” It talks about taking it to the Lord in prayer, about the peace we often forfeit because we don’t pray.
Jesus not only taught about prayer, how to do it and how not to do it. (We saw that early in the Sermon on the Mount.) He also modeled a life of prayer by stealing off for times of quiet conversation with God, the one he called Abba or Father, especially at key moments like the night before he called disciples and the night before he was put on trial.
One could easily interpret the teaching on prayer in today’s verses to say that we will get whatever we want, that prayer is like a blank check or three wishes from Aladdin’s lamp. Prayers are not like calling DoorDash and getting a delivery of what you want. God is not valet. But prayer does have the power to change us. And it can change the world.
What I’ve come to love about the people who have taught me about prayer (Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr) is that their focus on contemplation, on a life of prayer, on attentiveness to God’s voice in no way ignores the problems of the world and things that need to get done, the healing that needs to happen. It’s neither pie in the sky, nor retreat.
Rather, the contemplative focus equips people to contribute to the transformation of our world. I think of how Martin Luther King insisted that those participating in demonstrations have daily prayer and bible reading, When John Lewis was attacked on that bridge in Alabama, getting in good trouble, he had a backpack that included the Bible and a book of meditations by Howard Thurman.
So I’m thinking that when we pray, we place ourselves in God’s presence. We may not get what we ask for, which in many cases is a blessing. But we will be changed. Doors will be opened. And we will be brought into a new relationship with God, neighbor and even self. And by amazing grace, our world will be changed.