For someone as Church-y as I am, I came somewhat late to prayer, or at least to talking about it. In college I was too cool for prayer: you could be contemplative or you could be active, and I knew what side I was on. I didn’t have any of the incense-laden moments one might describe as prayer, and I saw that sort of talk as the purview of athletes pointing to the sky after a homerun on the one hand, and of the simperingly pious kids who judged ones spirituality on how many hours they’d spent in Eucharistic adoration that week on the other. Plus, I wasn’t convinced I knew how to pray, and despite all appearances I really do try not to talk about things I don’t know anything about.
That’s why it was so shocking to me a few weeks ago when this thought popped into my head, the kind of thought that if I heard anyone say it out loud I’d either roll my eyes or throw up a little: If I have succeeded in anything in life, it is because of prayer.
I still don’t know anything about prayer. I know that I am only able to perform because I am used to seeking out what is real. I know God best when I am dealing honestly with reality. So when I’m put in front of people to sing or act or speak, and I am expected to give them something real, I can fall back on the habit of searching for truth rather than for the easier fiction.
I know that I am only able to minister because I have experienced love in my life, then examined it and called it by name. When I am called on to be a loving presence, I am well served by this diligence in learning love. Prayer involves listening and paying attention, and when I fail at loving well I can use those habits to seek out and seal up the cracks in the armor of light. When I don’t give myself time for silence and stillness I fail more often than not, often in spectacular, hideous ways that make me feel like someone I don’t know. I need to check in often with that which is most real if I have any hope of staying real myself.
I don’t know anything about prayer. I’m scared to write about it but I can’t stay silent. If I have succeeded at anything in life, it is because of prayer. That doesn’t mean I write my request on a slip of paper and God answers me with a magic trick. I think it means that I am willing to keep searching and to accept how high the stakes are. It means I listen and I pay attention. It means I give care to remembering who I am so that I can live fully as a one Created rather than as a caricature. I think it means I have re-tooled my definition of success to include all those things that build up God’s Reign. When I am successful it is because I have allowed myself to collaborate with Creation, entering into the Goodness for which we were made, assenting to the Beauty we can only glimpse when we open ourselves to the glory we’ve named God in the rush we’ve named prayer.