Do you pray? How do you pray? When do you pray? Why do you pray? How often do you pray? Where do you pray? Do you pray in public? Do you pray in private? For what do you pray? These are just a few concepts focusing on the topic of prayer. Jesus talks to us this morning about his understanding of prayer.
As a country we pride ourselves in what we understand is the separation of church and state. There is no state religion or state funded religion and everyone can pray in any way they wish or not pray as it is their choice. For a country that prides itself in separation of church and state we have chosen to put the statement "In God We Trust" on all our money. Every session of Congress is opened with a prayer. Every political convention is opened with a prayer. From children in sporting events making the sign of the cross before an important shot to the multi-millionaire professional athlete pointing to heaven after making an important play, prayer seems to be highlighted. There are T.V. stations devoted to religion; there are televangelists urging their viewers to make financial donations to keep their programming available to them; at a closer look it almost seems religion and prayer is a major focal point in our society. The concept of prayer and dependence on God seems to spread throughout the whole spectrum of life.
Many of us have had diverse experiences of prayer from our early childhood attending many church services. Many of these services centered on the recitation of rote prayers---prayers generations had said for centuries before us. This sort of praying to me seems to be a connection to the past-for some a past that can only be brought forward to the future through memory and the continuation of prayers of centuries ago.
Today we seem to be in a period of time where every word and phrase needs to be looked at to ensure the prayer is politically correct; that no one is offended; that it is non-generational; that the prayer is all inclusive as to not exclude anyone.
The first Sunday of Advent this year-the end of November---in the Roman Catholic Church there will be unveiled a new version of the Roman Missal. It has taken over 14 years to come up with what is a new translation of time worn phrases and words. Some view this as being in the "restoration movement" trying to revert back to concepts and phraseology before Vatican II.
Over the years books too numerous to mention have been written about prayer. How does one pray? Perhaps we need to take a second and even third look at this. It seems to me that we at times pray for specific things and for specific people and events---I know I do. That would be all well and good if I knew what I needed. At times I think I know what I need. Looking back on my life there have been situations that I had prayed for to turn out in a certain way. Given the opportunity to look back on the situation from the distance of time I can see that if what I had prayed for had been granted in the way I had prayed it would not have been for the best. I am brought to the realization that I do not know what is best for me so how can I pray for something if I do not know if it is good for me? I certainly do not know what is best for you or for your loved ones.
In our first reading this morning we see Abraham showing a great deal of persistence with God in his negotiations. This persistence is followed in the Gospel of Luke when the man kept coming to his friend in the middle of the night asking for a loaf of bread. Jesus mentions this need for persistence in prayer throughout our life.
The Gospel of Luke this morning has wonderful stories detailing the love God has for each one of us. This love God has for us is described as the love a parent has for their children. What parent does not want the best for their children-at least as they can define it? God wants only the best for us and shows us this desire of God in the phrases-"ask and you shall receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened". I view this as God asking us to ask for the awareness of God in our life; to seek the understanding in the depth of our soul how God permeates our whole being; to knock so the closed door of our mind and heart will be open to God's presence within us. To do this we need to be persistent. This is not a one time thing but rather a life time journey which will lead us to the depths of our soul. Once we make this journey to our soul it is there that we find God waiting for us. All the "things" of prior prayers will seem inconsequential.
Jean once told me that in addition to praying for a specific outcome for a specific need Jean she always prayed for a person's HIGHEST GOOD. A person's highest good would be that situation where the person would be more connected to God-more in touch with the presence of God within them and throughout their very being. Once we are connected to God we can not only hear but understand what God has for us and what will be our highest good in this life.
Fr. Thomas Keating, a Trappist Monk, has written many books on prayer. One of his books on Centering Prayer is entitled: "Open Mind-Open Heart." Centering prayer requires us to "say" nothing; to ask for nothing; to simply be quiet and to allow the presence of God to fill us. Centering Prayer takes work. Try to center yourself on the love God has for you.
"Ask" and you will receive the awareness of God in your life.
"Seek" and you will find everything you need for your journey of faith.
"Knock" and God will open the door to your mind and heart-where God is there waiting for you.