Friday in Lent 1
Prayer is one of—if not the—core practice of Christian life: pray without ceasing, St. Paul encourages us. There are thousands and thousands of ways to pray—maybe even a million ways—and none of them—NONE OF THEM—is wrong. And yet, dear people of God, so often when we talk together about prayer, you’re anxious. “I don’t know how to pray,” I hear with some regularity. “I’m not very good at it.” “I don’t pray enough.” “It doesn’t really feel like anything.”
Psalm 40 is a good reminder to us of the depth and breadth and diversity of prayer life. It reads to me almost like a prayer journal: singing and praise; hope and thanksgiving; pleading for help; unsavory (but honest, real) prayers for bad things to befall enemies; even just plain old waiting. We witness the testimony, the experience of someone who knows God to be “living and active,” as we hear in Hebrews. Psalm 40 insists there’s no one right way to experience life with God; it looks like a lot of different things, in a lot of different moments.
I wonder what way God is calling you pray today? Something structured and laid out, like the Daily Office, or a devotional (like this one!)? Is today a day for honest conversation with God, for interceding for your own needs or the needs of your neighbors, or quiet listening for what the Spirit might be saying? Today are you called to be aware of God’s presence with you as you fold laundry or write that report or sit in traffic? Are you called to say “thank you,” or “please,” or “where are you?” or maybe just hello.
It is the simplest thing, as simple as breath, as song, as sitting together quietly; but oh, prayer is also hard. We are busy. Distracted. Self-conscious. We convince ourselves that if we can’t make the time or effort to do it “right,” then we ought not do it at all. Tradition tells us a story about Abba Agathon, one of the ancient desert fathers: “The brethren also asked him, ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’”*
Lord Jesus, our great high priest; pray for us, as we pray through you.
* The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection (Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 21-22.