Yesterday our little spiritual formation Renovare group was discussing prayer. “What actually is prayer?” Why do I feel so formal when I pray?” “Are there ‘rules’ for praying?” “How do I learn to focus during silence/prayer?” The Renovare Spiritual Formation Workbook that we use focuses on six traditions of spirituality that grew out of centuries of the practice of Christianity. Some of the group members are also reading Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water, which details and explains these six traditions.
One of those traditions is the Contemplative Tradition: the “prayer-filled life.” But how can we fill our lives with prayer, we ask, when we are doing so many other things. We began dipping into Foster’s discussion in Streams of Living Water. Here he states that the centrality of prayer is essential to the contemplative tradition. Foster also says, “This tradition offers a distinctive angle on prayer: a stress upon silence and a call to unceasing prayer.”
He goes on to quote Brother Lawrence on his view of prayer:
“I do nothing else but abide in his holy presence, and I do this by simple attentiveness and an habitual loving turning of my eyes upon him. This I should call . . . a wordless and secret conver -sation between the soul and God which no longer ends.”
Foster then summarizes the life of Frank Laubach, missionary to the Philippines and founder of a famous world-wide literacy program. Laubach made it his daily practice to attempt to turn his attention to God every minute of every day – speaking and listening to God through every moment of the day. I suspect this is what Paul meant when he said we should pray without ceasing.
I have come to believe that prayer is a running conversation with God as we go through our day – as well as times of silence and solitude. As I listened to the group discussion, it occurred to me that the following story is a great example of how “keeping God in the loop” at all times brings answers to wordless prayers.
Currently I am going through boxes and files, purging my life of paper – even well-loved pieces of paper. In the process I found some things that belong to the church I formerly served as director of spiritual formation. I decided to return a huge, very heavy bag of materials I used to teach the Apprentice series, as well as a large box of empty hanging files that I thought my former executive assistant could use.
Yesterday it was all ready to go. My husband I shared the load of the heavy bag. Straps in hand and bag between us, we slowly carried it down the steps. As I placed the heavy bag and the box in the trunk, I wondered, “How am I going to manage this?”
When I got to church, I took the items out of the trunk. But my plan to carry it all in on the seat of my walker fell apart when I couldn’t balance it all on the seat. I knew I couldn’t carry the stuff in while using the walker. As I was struggling, a good friend and member of my spiritual formation group came around to the back of the car. “Do you need help?” she asked.
I looked at her in astonishment! “Why are you here 20 minutes early?” I asked.
She said, “Well, I left home early so I didn’t couldn’t involved in something there and be late. What shall I carry?” She took the box, I put the huge bag on my walker seat, and off we went.
So this is the lesson I keep learning: Wordless needs are supplied (a process normally called “answered prayer”) when we practice the presence of God and carry on “secret conversations” with our Creator. This concept echoes Foster’s conclusion, “Put simply, the contemplative life is the steady gaze of the soul on the God who loves us.” This is what we call prayer.