“How does prayer work for you?”
It’s New Year’s eve. I’m sitting in front of a hot fire in a log cabin tucked inside the Snake River Forest outside Isle, MN. It’s cold out — 14 below cold. Three of my friend’s four dogs are afoot. We have just finished a lovely grilled salmon and veggie meal, (truth-be-told: despite the fact that a crucial part of our dish was consumed in flames prior to consumption.) My friend rests, we reflect on our 2012’s, and the conversation turns toward the theological.
“How does prayer work for you?”
We have just completed a ritual of sorts, she and I: writing out on tiny slips of paper responses to the following prompts:
“Things to release.”
“Things to embrace.”
“Things to invite in.”
We have been quiet, contemplative, and giggly as we engaged in this made up marking of our year, tossing our 2013 intentions into the fire and blowing kisses. I bowed before the flames, and said, “Amen!” as I surrendered these scraps of thought and extended this gesture as, indeed, a prayerful one.
“How does prayer work for you?” she asked again.
I am taken aback. A professed Athiest, with profound and inspiring regard for all of Creation, my girlfriend’s query gives me pause. When was the last time someone asked me this question? When was the last time I really thought about an answer? How often do I engage in spiritual or theological inquiry and debate with someone outside my faith?
My heart was on fire. I loved the moment and my dear friend’s fervor for the topic.
“How does prayer work for me?” I repeated, mulling over the largeness of the question, and the opportunity to respond.
As I paused, my girlfriend jumped back in.
“Do you really believe that God hears each one of your thoughts and prayers and answers? I mean, don’t you think he’s a little busy with the Universe, with everyone asking for help, to say nothing of who and what ever else might exist beyond?”
“Of course! I think God has the most exhausting job,” I respond, laughing — and then added: “but I think God can handle it.” Just like God can handle my beseeching, my anger, my sorrow, my joy, my praise.
At that moment, I wanted to quote my friend Zac Willette, whose theological writing always moves me. “The deal is, I don’t think we pray to change God’s mind about anything: I think we pray to change ourselves. To align our hearts with whatever God’s will or desire is, and to invite compassion, and ultimately, some action on our own parts around what, or whomever, we are praying for.”
I liked my answer. Driving home and reflecting now, I still do.
One of the greatest gifts of the Visitation Sisters — and any monastic, contemplative community– is this gift of prayer. When you request prayers, these women religious take it seriously; it’s the life blood of their community, so-to-speak. It fuels the sisters in their daily interactions — in their ways of being in the world. And, by extension — as a Visitation Companion, prayer is an ongoing activity of my own that informs my journey to live and love faithfully all who are around me, all who I encounter in this world.
On this New Year’s Day, as we journey again around the sun, how do you respond to this question: “How does prayer work for you?” And, might I add, “How might it better your life and animate your limbs in the coming year?”