It is a strange thing indeed that God bids us ask, seek and knock when, with little room for doubt, we stand squarely at the center of the very hurricanes from which we then seek God’s rescue. It can be stated unequivocally that I will ask for things from selfish motivation, seek for answers to my own pet projects built on projections of someone I mistakenly believe to be the biblical God and then knock on doors I only think will lead to an enhanced sense of well-being and happiness which, in and of itself, grows out of my own ego and is misguided to begin with.
And yet, God bids us come. Why? What is there to be gained through misplaced asking, misguided seeking and misdirected knocking? Is prayer somehow a test of our faithfulness? Our orthodoxy? Does God simply use all of this to plumb our propensity toward righteousness? Unrighteousness? Test our mettle? Prove our character? Uncover poor mental health? Check for bowel obstructions?
I share here the three greatest gifts to my prayer life. Ever. One: contemplative prayer or, as I like to call it, prayer without agenda. It is a practice of which I cannot seem to get enough and about which I long to learn more. I have delighted in becoming a novice of this ancient art and try to practice it numerous times a day. The second gift to my prayer life: bring the roses along with the shit, neither of which impress nor vex God in any way. So, if like the Psalmist, I can come to God on my worst day, in my worst mood, smelling of my worst sin, for the worst reasons and God still stubbornly delights in my presence…well then, I say, “let’s go!” Since God is well aware of the even deeper levels of dark felch in which I so momentously swim why not come anyway and see what happens? Right? Or, am I just ridiculously stupid? (to answer is your prerogative but, know this, you run the risk of me praying for you. And you don’t want that). Finally, intercede. Praying for others has a strange way of drawing on a deeper joy, yielding better interior fruit and somehow diminishing my inflated sense of self-need. I’m not especially good at it, but the practice is half the fun.
I do bemoan something however. For five years we lived in a small, tourist, college town in Oregon. It was located in the middle of some of the most richly verdant, mystical territory I’ve yet seen. It was also less than a half hour drive from not one but three monasteries. The one of my choice where I spent countless hours giving God the finger, then apologizing, then wiping my tears, then repeating the process was a Trappist Abbey a mere forty-five minute bike ride from our house. There it was that God flayed the dead skin from my ailing soul on more occasions than I can count. There I sought God’s counsel on major life decisions. There I spent three days crying and screaming through uncountable tears and unspeakable pain when, for a time, my wife and I separated. There I would pray and laugh with the brothers who knew more dirty jokes and more great Merton quotes than I’ll ever know in a lifetime. By the way, never let anyone feed you a false bill of goods on monks. They’re bad-ass dudes with bad habits (pun intended), worse breath and still worse sense of comic timing. But honesty? Depth? Love? Oh yes.
Geography or setting does not determine good or bad prayer. It can help however. This post signifies the beginning of a search, a sort of prayer experiment if you will, in seeking out a new sacred spot where God and I can swear at each other through loving and mutual tears. Without further verbose delay, I give you my journal entry from day 1 of this search:
“Egad, my soul is desperately thirsty. I need to pray fervently for a space to pray fervently. At times like this I wish I was a 20 minute drive from the Trappist Abbey where I could go and work out my salvation submerged in beauty and the green, deep stillness. Lord, how I miss that place. How I miss the spirit of learning, the ethos of readiness, of dark corner catacombs out of which came light and goodness, bright, and the silent choir of active contemplation.
Lord, show me a place to tie the ends that beg to be braided in multiple strands joined in singular purpose.
Lift the fog enough to see the edges of solidity, and fray the ends of cords I only think I need to tie my world together.
Unleash into my presumptive skies the birds of purgation carrying with them twigs and branches for the task.
Let me author the story of my own demise if through my disappearance you fill someone else’s stifling horizon.
Swell in the hopeless heart a future of light through my abiding darkness.
Write someone else’s story complete with satin ending on gilded pages torn from the tattered pages of my tired, half-written tale.
Finish others by my incompletion.
Airbrush another life with the melted crayons of my own.
Sing another’s song with notes plucked from my own unfinished symphony.
Why not join me in prayer? We’ll pray for each other and see what epic tales emerge…
Check out the Trappist Abbey here.
Prayer picture: www.julieamarxhausen.wordpress.com