Luke 11: 1-4
1He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
I have been wondering these past few months about what might actually constitute a spiritual practice. There are those colleagues in my life that seem to have very structured spiritual practices. They always seem to be speaking of, and sharing, their spiritual life. There have been many times, in my life, when I have run across questions that relate to my spiritual practices. As I have considered the answer to these types of questions I have wondered about what actually constitutes a spiritual practice. I also have been wondering if those who are asking these questions already have an answer in mind that they are expecting to hear. It makes for something interesting to ponder. Do you have a spiritual practice? What might you consider to be your spiritual practice? I suppose that one form of spiritual practice would be considered one’s prayer life. This then leads to another question, what constitutes prayer?
I remember during my first class in theological college our instructor was concerned that students were not actually understanding the nuances that were being taught about our nature, the nature of being human, and God’s grace. So, to challenge us students, the instructor adapted an assignment during the last week of class. Each of the students for ministry would present a meditation, or sermon, based on scripture, and each lay student would offer a reflection of some sort, which did not have to based on a scripture passage. I was lucky enough to draw the first slot. I was tasked with writing and offering a meditation (sermon) with just less than 24 hours. In those, less than, 24 hours I was to; read the scripture in light of our course, craft a meditation that could not be less that 20 minutes long, and offer it to a classroom full of my fellow students, some of whom were already in their 5th year of classes and others, like myself, who were only starting the journey. It was a time that was full of stress and anxiety. Needless to say I made it through that class and all of my subsequent classes, but I didn't do any of this alone. After I presented my meditation (sermon) that following day in class, there was an open time for other students to ask us questions about our sermons. I had a fellow student ask me a question that was very similar to the one that is being asked of Jesus in Luke chapter 11, I was asked; "How do we pray?" Jesus response to the question is to offer the those following him a template for entering into a space of prayer with God. I believe that what this in my class was asking individual was asking was how is one supposed to pray to God. The question was not scripted, nor did I, or anyone, know what this individual was going to ask and so I will be honest I was a bit stumped how to answer. In my mind I was wondering what authority did I have to instruct anyone on what prayer is, or should be. Finally, after I took a moment to collect my thoughts, I responded with a question of my own; "What does prayer mean to you?" What ensued was a conversation around prayer and how each of us will approach the idea of prayer in a way that is unique to each one of us.
If I am honest, my usual way of praying is for me to throw my hands in the air, looking up, and call out; "Really!" For other people prayer is something that is structured and something that is offered with an air of reverence. What I learned in this conversation with this fellow student that day those many years ago and throughout the years since is that in many ways prayer is really a conversation that takes place between ourselves and the divine, a conversation with God. In my life that is, on some days, an ongoing conversation with God, especially but not always, when things get stressful. I think that for each one of us the important thing is that we actually enter into those conversations with God throughout the course of our day, our week, our lives. So going back to the original question; "How do I pray?" I suppose the answer is that in prayer I enter into a deep intimate conversation with God, opening myself up and asking for God presence in my life, not as a solution to a problem, but to help me weather all the storms of life, and celebrate all of the joys that also come in my life. It is ongoing most days, it is rarely structured in any formal way, but it is true to me and I am comfortable with my prayer life.
One of the challenges that I have faced in these past few years is what is known as extemporaneous prayer. In other words, that is prayer that is offered without formal preparation, without time to write a formal prayer, it is basically prayer in the moment. I have previously been very uncomfortable with this form of prayer because I believe that it places pressure on myself as to what the expectations of those around me must be. Of course I have also come to realize that there are many times that those fears are completely unfounded. So as I wondered about this idea of spiritual practice and prayer I realized that the most important thing, for me, when it comes to prayer is to be able to open myself to the movement of the Spirit of the Divine, God’s Spirit moving in and around me. In allowing the Spirit to move through me, my prayers enter into that space of conversation between myself and the divine. How do you pray?
God of presence, hear all of our prayers. God, we ask that you hear those prayers that we pray in times of joy and happiness, as well as those in times of sadness and lament. Help us to feel your presence with us, not only when we pray but throughout all of our lives. You are a God of wondrous diversity and so we know that you know what is in our hearts and our prayers no matter how we might be comfortable bringing them to you. We ask for your presence and guidance in the name of the one who taught us to pray, Jesus the Christ. Amen.