Prayer is not a way to get what we want to happen, like the remote control that comes with the television set. I think prayer may be less about asking for the things we are attached to than it is about relinquishing our attachments in some way. It can take us beyond fear, which is an attachment, and beyond hope, which is another form of attachment. It can help us remember the nature of the world and the nature of life, not on an intellectual level but in a deep and experiential way. When we pray, we don't change the world, we change ourselves.
At the empty nest turning point of middle age, something arose in me, and my journal became full of entries about being alone. I discovered that two entries written 10 years apart were almost identical. I had not yet learned to dignify "alone" with the name of Solitude, but I knew what I wanted, what I needed—as if my life was depriving me of something as essential as the air I breathed.
Mystery: it is all around us, and we do not know it. But sometimes when we give it time and space, whether in deep peace or great anguish, it will come up behind us, or meet us face to face, or move within us, changing the way we see everything, and filling our hearts with joy and an upspringing of love that needs no direct object because everything is its object.
Modern life does not give us the experiences that might enlarge our vision. It hardly occurs to us that the living can have anything to say to the dying, or that the dying have anything to communicate to the living. We think that the dying are beyond our reach as they lie there, unable ot speak or respond in any way, but we are wrong. They can still hear what is said to them, even in what seems like deep unconsciousness; they can still be aware of touch... The dying need us to go as far as we can with them on the journey
We often consider prayer a deliberate act, something that we choose to do, or not. In the 18th century, William Law knew better:
"As the heart willeth and worketh, such, and no other, is its prayer.... For this is the necessity of our nature: pray we must, as sure as our heart is alive; therefore, when the state of our heart is not a spirit of prayer to God, we pray without ceasing to some, or other, part of the creation."
Perhaps as we learn what "part of creation" we have been praying to without knowing it, we can enlarge and re-focus our prayer, until we find that we are not so much praying as being prayed through, and all our own best hopes and the hopes of the world are flowing through us.
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