I pretty much gave up readings books about prayer a few years ago after I realised that most of what I read seemed to convince me that everyone else was praying better than I was. And if Jesus was the Master Teacher, then I wanted him to teach me directly.
Many of the writings suggested new methods for prayer, all well intentioned, but overall, for me at least, not what I really needed.
I remember praying as a child: in a natural and spontaneous way just chatting with God (we Catholics didn’t talk very intimately about Jesus back then) about the ups and downs of my little life, and many days I prayed confidently for a miracle.
Then as I grew older, and especially when I studied theology, I probably spent more time learning about God and the ways of God and less time just seeking to be with God.
I am a bit older now and realise that I have learnt much more about prayer from parishioners than I have from the many books I’ve read.
I think of visiting families who take time before the children go to bed praying together, an informal prayer in which every member of the family might add a thought, or perhaps a more formal prayer. I am moved even to tears when I recall some of these prayer times.
Parishioners of all ages have taught me of the simplicity, beauty and power of uncluttered prayer from the heart: God, please don’t let the boss fire me. Jesus if someone has to have my teenage son’s cancer then let it be me. Lord I will do anything if my wife gives me another chance.
You know the kind of prayer I mean. Heartfelt. Real. Desperate. You know this kind of prayer because this is the way you pray at times.
These prayers often include a formal prayer, an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and even a Rosary that begins, but after a minute the mind is wandering and I’m clutching the beads for dear life. Of course it’s not just the beads but Jesus that I’m holding as I realise that he is holding me in a healing embrace.
Parishioners have taught me that there are as many ways of praying as there are people who pray, and while books and talks can be helpful, Jesus will teach us directly if we ask.
Without a doubt the well-meaning gospel Scribes, Pharisees, Teachers and Rabbi’s, and even we men-called-Father in today’s gospel provide some good guidance at times, But anyone who knows us can see that we stumble and struggle and fall and fail as much as others.
The Lenten encouragements continue in today’s scriptures:
“Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow….Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
And right in the middle of that exhortation comes the gentle invitation that reminds me of the power of my childhood and child-like prayer:
“Come now, let us talk this over, says the Lord.”
That’s what I mean, Jesus teaching me to pray by saying to me, Come here, sit by me and let’s chat about whatever is going on in your life. And if you feel as though you don’t have the strength to hold on to me, don’t worry about that. Just know that I am holding you. You are safe, and I love you.
So, “Come now, let us talk this over, says the Lord.”
- Spend some time now and throughout the day, as you work or sit or drive, responding as Jesus says to you: “Come now, let us talk this over.” What is it you sense Jesus might be inviting you to “talk over” with him.
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