...though not remotely as I was taught, and only because there is no defining or confining it. I’m beginning to think human life–at least my own life–is best spent refining it in the ways shown to me.
Because whatever else it may be or become, prayer is the thing that links the mundane and the mysterious, the flattened secular world we’ve co-created and the re-enchanted World that continues to wait for us, more of us. It’s worded and wordless, sung and silent, communal and personal, absent and intimate, historical and immediate. And future for that matter.
It can be the answer to everything because it is a word with infinite referent.
I get reactive when someone else says “Prayer is the answer to everything” because, in my experience, the words aim to close down a dissonance refused. These words in ecclesial contexts have often (not always) meant an imposed call to submit to a social norm, to an ecclesial habit (un)consciously used to control others and/or refuse any startling wisdom that disrupts or surprises. For example, the president of my own institution used it recently when a decision I made (supported by the Academic Dean) did not accord with his own desires. “Let’s pray about it,” he said, while refusing time or effort to create space for such prayer, personal or communal.
The longstanding return to the body journey that has shaped me these last years has made me uber-suspicious of Christians and prayer, though I consider myself an active-contemplative Christian living into prayer every day. Perhaps I simply struggle with prayer that seems to primarily socialize us–prayers in corporate worship, for example.
Then this week, I am returned to a Benedictine community practice of the liturgy of the hours, the rhythmic chanting, reading, and silences amidst the Psalms, each month (I think). It’s not a practice I can do alone, I realize. Too many scriptural wounds left raw in me. But in this small band gathering regularly in the Oratory, I’ve re-learned communal chanting (which I’d first learned in my Episcopal days of grad school) and the long pauses engaged between each element of the liturgy. Space to breathe. To be breathed.
Not directed by some clergy.
A community showing up for itself, becoming present to the psalms and inner/outer/immediate experiences of the moment, to one another. I feel like I’ve been Being Shown something all week.
Then, sitting on a bench overlooking Lost Lake here at the monastery, I heard the words: prayer really is the answer to everything.
Not as I was taught.
Not as the congregational church I know today teaches it.
Certainly not as seminaries today offer or teach it.
Anne Hillman’s book Awakening the Energies of Love: Discovering Fire for the Second Time found me this week. Springing from a Teilhard de Chardin quote, she goads me to wonder:
Is prayer the fire that soothes as water, the water that enflames as Love?