On Prayer

“Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I have been thinking about prayer of late.

I used to attend a Lutheran church where one of the pastors insisted that any event held at the church required a prayer. It was her view that something going on at church needed to have a “Christian” component to it.  Though she never said so explicitly, it was apparent that she believed that someone (especially and ordained clergy person) saying a prayer did something that changed any event from secular to sacred.

Needless to say, it was an idea that I had no time for. And still have no time for.

To my mind she was making two mistakes.

First, she was making prayer the pre-eminent “Christian” component. Certainly it would be better to insist that the event somehow feed or help the poor, take care of children, take care of creation. That would be closer to the heart of what it means to be Christian than someone standing up and giving a minute-long list of requests asking for God to help and support in some way.

Second, and most importantly, she was making the mistake of confusing prayer with the act of  talking rather than listening.

There is an old saying: if you are talking you cannot be listening. I respectfully suggest that what passes for prayer in most churches involves lots of talking and very little, if any, listening. It is hence not prayer at all. It is merely the petitioning of desires and grievances.

Prayer is letting the heart and mind rest in silence so you can actually hear what God has to say. For I do believe that God speaks to us.

Prayer requires quiet and solitude. It requires letting go of the very desires and grievances we associate with most so-called prayer.

Most of all, it requires us to shut up and listen!

I suppose that is one of the reasons church music makes me restless. You enter the church and there is a prelude playing until the service starts. The service is people talking or singing. Moments of silent reflection are but a moment, at most. And when it is time to leave, there is more music.

And when the music is dreary and boring… it is better to skip the service altogether and to go outside and listen to God in nature, or to read and hear God in poetry.

It is better to do almost anything than to stand in a group of people and talk.

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