Praying: Both/And

My dear friend Richard Burbach recently started blogging, and I am glad he has! The conversations we share always enrich me and it is a delight to see Richard sharing his reflections with a broader audience.

Here is an excerpt from his post today about prayer, which resonates with my own experience. (And I love the timing; some of what Richard says here was part of both my book talk this past weekend in Seattle and a talk I gave yesterday morning.)

[D]o we recite “prayers” or do we “pray”? Making such a distinction is only for the purpose of emphasizing, as with most things in life, its a matter of BOTH/AND. Whether reciting prayers or spontaneously praying, we begin to catch on that it eventually becomes less a matter of what we do and more a matter of attentiveness to what God is “praying” in us. Perhaps such an awareness of God’s initiative is the only way we can really understand or begin to approach Scripture’s admonition to “pray continually” (Luke 18:1) or “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Especially during summer in Minnesota when folks flock “up North” to their cabins we have good reason to ask, “Why do we need to go to church? I pray better outside in nature! That’s where I find God.” I don’t deny God’s grandeur nor the spontaneous gratitude and wonder this calls forth. My purpose here is to ask whether we cheat ourselves if we slip back into EITHER/OR thinking on this topic. My experience teaches that we are at our best when we practice BOTH time in God’s creation AND time in formal prayer.

My experience resonates with Julia Marks: Time set apart for “prayers” – or, more broadly, prayer practice – does matter, and it nourishes the times of spontaneous prayer, silent communion, or mindfulness-in-the-moment. “As the expression of our prayerfulness,” says Brother David, “prayers make us more prayerful. And that greater prayerfulness needs to express itself again in prayers. We might not have much to begin with, but the spiral expands according to its own inner dynamics, as long as we stay with it.”

My prayer – and “practice” is an apt word to describe what I attempt – is generally no more glamorous than faithfully seating my butt down on the stool in my prayer space and setting the timer on my iPhone for twenty minutes. I can’t explain it, nor will I try. It just works! As expressed so well by Julia Marks and Brother David: “Staying with it” is the key. In other words, pray daily, intentionally, in some form. Get a routine, any routine – one that suits you, not someone else. Then be faithful to it. Faithfulness is crucial here, not performance.

I encourage you to check the read the post in its entirety here.