Doing Prayer Right

I’ve just been reading a book by Martin Lee Smith, an Episcopal monk, called “The Word is Very Near You.” Normally, I would shy away from a book of that title because it sounds kind of dramatic and a little too “religious” for me. But my friend (and Spiritual Director) Christi recommended this book when I was about to start a weekly prayer group. See what I know! I got stuck in the first chapter of the book because it had so much to say, and I am thankful to Christi for offering it. The thoughts below are based on, and borrowed from, Dr. Smith’s work.

I have also been studying this week about personality types and my own type in particular (Enough About You). People like me struggle with a never-ending view of a black and white world. There is a either a right way of doing things or a wrong way of doing things. Even with prayer, my Inner Critic has voiced her opinion that I am not praying often enough or using the right words when I do pray. It seems that I have managed to turn prayer into a task, another thing to feel guilty about not doing right. By doing this, I have turned God into a taskmaster.

The most profound thing I learned in Chapter 1 of Dr. Smith’s book was that I was not expected to begin the conversation with God. “In prayer, we are never ‘getting the conversation going’ with God,” says Martin Lee Smith, “we are continuing a conversation which God has begun.” Think of it something like this: Imagine yourself walking along a beautiful river, sunlight reflecting in the water, your heart warmed by having a few minutes to yourself. All of a sudden, you become joltingly aware of the beauty that surrounds you. You “find yourself turning to God in a brief expression of praise and appreciation.” Smith says that you are not starting a conversation with God. God speaks to you first in the language of creation. God presents to you the reality of what God has made and given to us.

Redefining prayer this way allows for two things to happen. First, it gives priority to attention and receptivity—“Prayer is primarily attentiveness to God’s disclosure to us and the heart’s response to that disclosure.” Second, redefining prayer helps us to move God from a taskmaster to a giver and a lover. What if, instead of taskmaster, God does not demand prayer as much as God gives prayer? What if prayer is a means of God nourishing, restoring, healing, and transforming us? What if God offers prayer to satisfy us?

I love this new way of thinking about prayer. I even feel relieved! No matter the personality type, many of us have a hard time receiving God’s gift of unconditional love. It seems that in prayer, our only job is to be ready to receive from God.

Today, when I walk by the river, I’m going to look around and see what God is saying to me and gratefully receive God’s gift of creation.

!. Smith, Martin, The Word is Very Near You, Crowley, TX: Crowley Publising, 2005
2. Ibid, pg. 18
3. Ibid, pg. 28

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