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Really, What Is Prayer?

roots of trees beside a waterfall

My prayer life is… well… it could use some improving. I recently made a video called “When Prayer Is Boring” reflecting on some of the challenges of daily prayer. During the holy discipline of Lent, we are called to pray, fast, and give alms, and, since I have written about the benefits of fasting before, and I hope I don’t need to write about the importance of giving charitably, I want to focus on prayer this year.

But what is prayer? Communication with God, I guess is the easiest answer. There are the traditional formalized prayers, of course, which are beautiful and very useful. But sometimes, they just feel like words. I may say “Help me, Lord” when I need something, or “I’m sorry” when I feel miserable, or thank and praise God with other words when I’m feeling happy. Is that it, though? Is prayer simply taking the time for petition, penitence, thanksgiving, and praise?

Surely, prayer is more than just time + words.

God is always and everywhere present, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”* I know this. But am I really mindful of this reality? Sometimes, I take the time to be quiet and still, mindful of God’s presence — of God’s ever-loving and ever-giving presence. This doesn’t need words. To sit in gratitude and breathe in peace is, perhaps, the best prayer, an intimate union with the Divine. I am always in the Lord’s presence (we all are), but I too often completely forget.

And I don’t always trust God’s will. (God knows this is true.)

I’m beginning to understand that an active prayer life has very little to do with words. Or even feelings. It has, I believe, everything to do with connection, with trust, with intimacy. If I only “turn” to God in prayer when I need something, or when I’m feeling thankful or afraid, then I’m not getting it.  I’m missing something. Because… if I am “turning” to God when I pray, then to whom am I turned when I am not actively praying?

That’s the question.

The real orientation of my life, of my mind and my heart, is something that I would like to ponder this Lent. And I’m going to take my definition of prayer, of what true prayer life is, from this passage in the book of Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD:
            Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
                        who seeks his strength in flesh,
                        whose heart turns away from the LORD.
            He is like a barren bush in the desert
                        that enjoys no change of season,
            but stands in a lava waste,
                        a salt and empty earth.
            Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
                        whose hope is the LORD.
            He is like a tree planted beside the waters
                        that stretches out its roots to the stream:
            it fears not the heat when it comes;
                        its leaves stay green;
            in the year of drought it shows no distress,
                        but still bears fruit.

~ Jeremiah 17:5-8

© 2022 Christina Chase


* Acts 17:28

Feature Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

Christina Chase View All

Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.

4 thoughts on “Really, What Is Prayer? Leave a comment

  1. But still, He wants us to trust each other and to be trustworthy. It would be a poor world if there were no people I could put my trust in, if my children and grandchildren could not trust me.

    Jeremiah depended on Ebed-melech to get out of the cistern, and he was an unclean Ethiopian eunuch; he trusted Baruch to take his messages to the palace. But he had more reason than most to put no trust in mortal men, in whom there is no help.

    Is it something to do with being an alter Christus, another Christ. DISCUSS!!

    Good to see you in action!

    God bless, WT

    Like

    • Yes, good reflections on trust. Neither you nor I take Jeremiah’s “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings” to mean that we should never trust people or be trustworthy ourselves. Being completely dependent upon other human beings for my daily survival, I definitely employ trust every day! (Especially during transfers 🙂 ) The third line of the Scripture passage seems important, gets at what I’m trying to reflect upon: “whose heart turns away from the LORD.” So, we should be trustworthy and able to trust people, but always with our hearts turned to the LORD. Who are any of us without God? Nobody and nothing would exist. And more than that — human beings are made in the image of God, created precisely to personally reflect God’s love and mercy in Creation.

      Your comment about being another Christ is, I believe, absolutely essential to understanding anything. Christ is the center of all. By trusting in God’s goodness, in His loving will, I should trust that His divine assistance will be at work in the world, “sending” people my way who will be able to help me out physically, or even emotionally or mentally. Of course, I don’t want to be like the person in the flood who prayed for God to save him and then refused to get into the rescue boat and then the rescue helicopter because he was waiting for God to assist. Exactly how do we expect God to assist? Through us, through what and who He has created. That’s the fruit of love, love active in the world means that people help people. I guess the danger, however, is to think that man is the measure of all things and that we can figure out everything, that the strength of flesh is enough. I cannot convert another human being. Nobody in the world can save me from death. And human beings did not invent love. Survival without love is, well, “a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.”

      It’s that turning to the LORD that Jeremiah speaks about, that the LORD spoke about through Jeremiah, that strikes me. What does it mean? “Blessed is the one… whose hope is the Lord” — what does that mean? It seems like there is a kind of grounding that is needed, a secure rooting in intimate proximity to the stream, which is essential connection to the Source of all Life, the Source of all goodness, mercy, love, peace, and joy.

      Ever since I had my own experience beneath a grape arbor of the reality of “that which we call God,” I have begun to see the beauty, and perhaps even the necessity, of a mystic understanding of divine reality. … “In whom we live and move and have our being”… but one that understands that God is personal, personally and particularly loving, that Jesus is the Word of God, and that the highest attainment for any human being is to love God and to love our fellow human beings as Jesus loves. That intimate connection, unity, and participation/cooperation in divine love — to trust that love and to stake our hopes for anything on nothing but that love is perhaps what it means to be turned to the LORD? These are some of the things that I am reflecting upon, asking, searching.

      I am a worrier. My tendency is to worry. And I try to fix things. I can even stress out about making sure that I do every single possible thing that I can so that I can make something right. But is it really all on me? Yes, I have other human beings who can also carry some of the burden of figuring things out and making things go smoothly, but I have also been given life by One who, I believe, is absolutely GOOD, absolutely merciful, absolutely loving. Of what shall I be afraid? To be mindful of God’s infinite goodness, infinite presence… perhaps that is praying without ceasing? Perhaps that is reaching my roots out to the stream? Because with this awareness, maybe only with this awareness, I am truly free to love — to sit in gratitude and to breathe in peace, peace with myself, my situation, my surroundings, and all of my fellow human beings. The kind of peace that is loving, forgiving, generous, but also patient and knowing, willing for their ultimate good in union with Christ.

      Okay, I went a little rambling there in the last part! (Maybe the whole thing!) But I’m going to leave it as it is so that I may reflect upon it later. Perhaps you have inspired me to write another post! I hope you don’t regret asking me to discuss 🙂

      Always good to reflect with you,
      Pax Christi
      Christina

      Like

  2. Trust in God is hard, but often He has better things that’s are hidden from us at this moment, but in time we know he had a reason for not given it to us now eventhough we are praying so hard for it!!!
    God always spoke truth, he never had to ask if his judgment was correct, he knew it was!
    He was Truth!
    When Jesus appeared to some Saints, he told them their reward would be so grand in their next heavenly home.
    I know that, but I want it now…I don’t like waiting. But if I want to be happy I must be patient and wait and TRUST.
    I can never say it as well as you can Christina,but I can feel it!
    This was another good post
    Sent from my iPhone

    Like

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