“Prayer” is just a word, and the word is not the reality of actually praying. I’m kinda tired of the word to be honest. In my own life it’s just accumulated too much baggage and confusing background noise. I want to pray, but I’m tired of trying to pray. I find myself wanting prayer, but what I need is to pray.
Back in the day, the New Testament most often used a handy compound Greek word for prayer that signified both intimacy and longing. In Hebrew we have the history of an even more amazing word that conveys attachment and self-evaluation. I’m not going to painstakingly link my readings in for you. I usually do, yes, but this time I’ll let you do some Googling and digging if you’re interested.
In English we have a nice latinized word we are all used to, “Pray.” Our good friends Merriam and Webster tell us that the word has two general meanings: 1) to ask for or entreat (the linguistic roots of the word), and 2) to address God (the general historic use of the word for the last bunch of centuries).
But I’m more interested these days in praying than in prayer. I picked up a quote some years ago from my reading of Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, “I would rather feel compunction than know how to define it.” Let me to just say “Right freaking on!” to that sentiment. That statement can be made of many things, not just our bigger more complicated terms like compunction. It’s how I feel about prayer. I need to experience something bigger than the word.
So, thinking about the Hebrew roots and the Greek roots and thinking of the way Jesus taught and practiced praying, what is a word for what I’m looking to find and do? What word captures what prayer would be in my life if prayer becomes freed from some of the baggage it’s been carrying?
I think often of a lost word for most of us in the West: meditation. Years ago, as in like over 20 years ago, I heard of “soaking.” Soaking was the practice of laying in bed or sitting in a chair with the lights down and headphones on, letting music guide you into a meditative state for connecting with God. It’s good stuff. Worthy of a try or two.
In Mother Teresa’s “Simple Path” prayer is sandwiched between silence and faith. Hmmmmm. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Rumi has an amazing quote about passion, what I will call “passionate swimming“: “With passion pray.
With passion make love. With passion eat and drink and dance and play. Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of God?” But I’m not sure that replacing prayer with passionate swimming will be useful for me in a daily way. He does though capture in a beautiful style the desire to revel in the fully present and enlivening God.
A quick look around shows an affinity we have with linking dance and prayer, and not just among those who follow Christ. Like swimming, I think dancing embraces an immanence that I want to experience in prayer. But I’m not even a bad dancer. I just don’t dance.
I want to have a word like imagining. I want to have a word like creating. I want a prayer experience that is foundational to a constant becoming. I want a word that can include riding my scooter, painting, crying to God in anguish, singing a hymn and journaling. I want a word for the capture and crafting of a soul.
I need a word for at one moment losing and finding myself in God. I need a word for at moment experiencing and re-creating the reality in which I live. I already know that hugging one of my sons is praying. I know that every kiss I give my wife is a prayer.
I’m still looking, and still trying to find it, even if I can’t define it. I am hopeful and expectant, that even a simple blog post becomes prayer, an imagining and a rooting of myself in something unseen and yet present. And for a while, in a moment of time and place, my soul is remade a little closer to the image of God’s heart.
I’ve been working on “Thoughts on Preaching: Part 2,” but this afternoon I just had to stop thinking for a while and do some painting. Painting is prayer, a form of meditation for me. I make no claims to be good at it or have a style I can all my own, but it is one of the most freeing times for me.
I’ve been reading and thinking about St. Francis of Assisi for a few days and I was thinking of doing a self-portrait, so I combined the two and came up with this painting, today… an acrylic meditation on the first line of St. Francis’ formative prayer,
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”
I worked two hours straight on it from the beginning to completion, and it’s drying now in our bedroom. I have a spot on the wall all picked our for it. Don’t worry, I am under no delusions about the difference between myself and the great saint. I just used a little artistic liberty to focus my efforts.