Monday, May 5, 2014

Praying

"A Golden Glow"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

Over my many years as a parish priest I did a lot of praying for people. Folks would come to me requesting prayers for any number of things- cure for a sickness, help with finances, landing a job, passing an exam.  I would publicly pray for people during church services. I prayed for people privately.

A few years back I stopped praying this way - I stopped for a couple reasons.

For one thing,  I came to the point where I stopped believing in the kind of God praying in this way demanded: An "Almighty and Eternal King" up someplace at a distance holding court and receiving all those petitions, with the power to grant some requests and refuse or ignore others.

Secondly, I stopped praying for people like I used to because I saw too many occasions in which prayers like this actually caused pain and inflicted suffering rather than alleviate it.  If various prayer requests were answered, everybody was all happy. A child lived, a cancer was cured, they got the job or bought the house, an exam was passed  - "hooray,"  prayer works thanks to the gracious king.

When prayers were answered, it was interpreted as a sign of "God's" favor, and I would often get notes or receive calls thanking me for my "powerful" prayers.

However, when the baby died, or the cancer spread, or when no matter how hard they tried,  the couple still went into bankruptcy or the marriage failed, people figured that somehow the "King" must have said "no." or they were being ignored.  They wondered what they had done wrong to get such an unfavorable response,  and sometimes wondered if maybe there was no king after all.  When prayers didn't "work, " I rarely got any follow-up calls.

So I just stopped praying for people like I used to.

For me, "God" is an abiding Holy Presence rather than a mighty king. "God" is an energy of holy love more intimate to us than we are to ourselves, wanting more for us than we want for ourselves - flowing in and through us. "God" - an abiding Presence with us in the good times and with us in the bad times, with us without regard to who people are or what they believe or don't believe, with us without regard for what people do or don't do, or how many prayers they say.

While I no longer pray for people like I used to, I do continue to pray for people.  I do so every day (in fact several times a day),  but I never make requests.

Out here in our desert home (The Desert Retreat House), I practice a contemplative prayer discipline of "bringing others into the light." At the beginning and at the end of the day,  I simply mention the names or visualize the faces of other people - people I know and don't know, people I love and people I don't particularly like, people who are suffering and people who are rejoicing, people in the news, people I have met along the hiking trails, people who deliver the mail or pick up the trash, waiters in restaurants and clerks in stores.

I mention their names or visualize their faces and "bring them into the light"  -into the energy of a Holy Presence," and then I leave it at that, asking for nothing, seeking no desired outcome - confident and trusting that there is nothing I can ask or imagine that can possibly be greater than what "God" desires.

Often times my wife and I sit together in silence for a few moments,  and we pray in this way- simply speaking the names of others.  As a new day dawns over the eastern mountains we "bring others into the light" - always such a tender and powerful time.

As a little side note, one of our dogs (Augustine) likes to sit beside us in the silence. Whenever he hears us mention a name, he strikes the floor "two times" with his big old tale as if he is hitting a meditation gong or ringing a prayer bell.  We always smile when he does this - doing his part in bringing people into the light.

There is a wise and beautiful Sufi saying about prayer. It pretty much summarizes what I have come to believe.

In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church, where I kneel.
Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or words exist.













2 comments:

  1. Good writing and wise words, Paul. I love the idea of bringing people into the Light of God's Presence and trusting God to do the very best for them. Grace and peace in Christ. Ken Chumbley

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    1. Thanks Ken..always nice to hear from you.

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