>Conversations about prayer life are always a little uncomfortable for me. It is the same sort of discomfort one feels when a stranger asks some random question or makes a comment about the weather…you always feel this lingering sense of something else will be following this pleasant and meaningless exchange.
There is an added level to prayer though. There is something about wearing a robe which I guess give me a PhD in prayer in the eyes of some. So it is natural to assume I could answer questions about prayer.
It is true that I probably could answer those questions, but usually (and here is where the discomfort sets in) my explanations are supposed to include information about my prayer life. It seems most people probably either non-existent prayer lives or anemic ones so talking about what they don’t have is just part of traditional bourgeois, suburban conversations about what we do not have that our neighbors do. I do not have John’s extra large LCD TV or the Petersons’ shinny new SUV, or Br. Leo’s fantastic prayer life…Prayer, in suburbia is just another thing we need to keep up with the Joneses.
This commodification of prayer makes it very difficult to have an actual discussion about actual prayer. If prayer is a form of relating with God, then it has a lot more to do with sex than with commodities. Though, considering how much sex is a
product these days, it may not be very surprising.
Since prayer, the kind of prayer that I practice, is much more akin to sex, then I have little or no desire to discuss it at random. Someone once told me that mysticism is the erotic relationship with God. Shocking for some, but I believe this to be true if we are careful in our definitions of all the critical words (mysticism, erotic and God).
If I even go down the road of talking about prayer life, I usually I want to spend sometime talking about the person’s concept of God and of prayer. What is prayer for? Who is God? How do prayer and God interact? These are not simple theological shibboleths, but rather they are necessary beginnings for a meaningful conversation about prayer life. And even then I will probably talk about their prayer life – which is what they want to talk about anyway. I still coach and help people in their devotional practices. Why? Because I love them, and they need it, and they need me to tell them that God can be there for them, that God can be a safe and trusted harbor. Life is tough enough already. They don’t need anything more than a comforting God who can give some meaning and shelter.
So for myself I “envy” those who claim they reach out to God in prayer as a friend. Wish I could do that!
In reality, for me God is not “there” (or “here” for that matter). In prayer there is Nothing. Nothing prayer to not-God. And as I pray I pray that God be in His Nothingness even more there (or here) – a koan of sorts, I think.
I go to my little corner desk where I have my Nepalese singing bowl, a candle, an icon, a crucifix, and my book of psalms. Most times it is not me there at all – it is the room and the noises in the street that are breathing in that corner, watching in that corner, praying there. Sometimes that corner is in a bad mood, sometimes frustrated, sometimes quiet and content.
Further, when people talk of prayer they really are asking about intercessory prayer. To me this happens infrequently. When it does it is obvious, and powerful, and immediately effective. It feels like praying with not to God. And there is immediate consolation in knowing God knows and is doing something about it. But I would say these are the exceptions. The vast majority of time I would say intercessory prayer is simply not heard. Now, there might be other, subtler, benefits to practicing regular intercessory prayer even without the results – the greatest of which is that it is hard not to care about people you pray for. So it is always profitable to pray. Just, in my experience, expecting results is bound to be disappointing.
And what people do? They lie to themselves either by inflating the results or fabricating them altogether. Why? To protect God’s reputation as a miracle worker, as a Sovereign who is All-Powerful. But did not Jesus come in as the lowest of the low? What does this say about God?
If, when people asked me about my prayer life, I told them these things I know they would rush in with their pieties (to comfort me), or think me mad.
This spirituality of mine is one of the reasons I have to be a solitary: I am too rough and uncivilized, and I cannot get comfortable with the purple pillow of piety (jasmine scented).
I really wish God was a comfort, that God was a “pill” that takes all my pains away. But the God I know and love is most often an all-devouring absence, something that removes my comforts…
This is where St. Romuald’s brief Rule makes sense to me. Step six of the brief Rule states that I should destroy myself completely. This sounds like bombastic exaggeration, or perhaps Romantic afflatus, or dangerously deranged psychosis. Perhaps it is all of the above.
This sixth step is not so nice…and then is that seventh step. So people ask me, “What do you do?”, and they expect some uber-monk yoga practices or some super-secret piety exercises or something which would allow me to be happy-happy all the time. And the truth is all I do is sit and wait for “the bus”… I am abandoned by God in God for God, like a baby bird chirping for some regurgitated grubs and water…
For the record: I’m not too fond of birds, and even less so of baby birds, ugly, squirmy, demanding, selfish little things. Not a very flattering image – wish I could say I was a soaring eagle!