Finish this sentence. “The first thing that I think when I wake is …” For some, words that conclude the sentence are: What time is it? For others: What do I have to do today? Still, others have no words, but a desire for coffee or more sleep.
When I wake, the first thing that I think is God. Prayer comes to mind when I wake. I do not recite a creed or a formal prayer, but internally speak to God. Speaking and listening to God is my prayer. Then, I get out of bed; make the coffee, check my email and sit down to write, read or pray with intention.
Later in the morning, Cindy and I walk Travis and Pepper around the Tinley Park Recreation Center. On our way, we pass Faith Christian Reformed Church, where Pastor Mark Timmer changes the phrase on the marquee. Recently, it read: Prayer is a conversation with your best friend. Quite true. Prayer is an intimate conversation with a best friend.
Regarding what happens during prayer, someone once replied to St. John Vianney, “I look at Him and He looks at me.” Only those who are intimate with one another will feel comfortable with such mutual gazing. I would feel uncomfortable if a person on the subway or bus looked at me this way. It would be a stare or a gawk accompanied by an uncomfortable feeling. Not so with God. With Him, I am most intimate.
Cindy and I share this intimacy with God as we begin each morning with a few pages from Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours. We read aloud psalms, canticles and prayers. We repeat our morning practice in the evening and before we retire to bed.
The Liturgy of the Hours is Christianity’s earliest form of public worship. Christians celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours under various names. Eastern Christians recite the Horologion or Book of Hours. Anglicans pray from the book of Daily Prayer of Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. Lutherans find their prayer in the liturgical books used by their various church bodies, as does every denomination.
When I asked Cindy what she likes about our new practice of prayer, she replied, “The routine.” There is something about a routine, method, practice or ritual that stays with us. There is a certain comfort when we can recite a prayer or passage by heart. To attain that mutual gaze with an intimate friend, we begin by practicing ritual or a routine prayer method.
Except for an occasional mispronunciation of a word or reading over the other’s part, reciting Christian Prayer is also a pleasant quiet time for the two of us. Because we recite our prayer in the family room, the other members of our family participate in less spiritual activities. Travis, our photogenic Golden Retriever, and Pepper, our adorable mixed breed rescue dog, often choose their playtime to coincide with our prayer time.
There are moments when Cindy and I interrupt our prayer and end the dogs’ frivolity, but experience has taught us they quickly exhaust themselves, or that Buddie, our rodent-killing cat, who can no longer tolerate the racket, will end playtime by wailing and swatting each dog with a sharp paw.
What this means is that we must pray amidst activity. Our microcosm of spiritual experience teaches us that we cannot control all the activity around us, and often must trust that in God’s time, the commotion must stop.
Decades ago, I learned that an infant crying during the service will soon stop or that one of the parents will take the child out of earshot. If not, I tuned out the distraction and tuned into our devotion. Whenever Christians take time for individual or gather for communal prayer, there will always be distractions around us that we cannot stop. People will engage in vice and violence – gossip, infidelity, abortion and an array of abusive behavior towards others and themselves. Parents and caregivers will neglect their children and the elderly. Nations will war on other nations and oppress their own people. Nature will produce hailstorms and heatwaves, blizzards and earthquakes. We must continue to pray through distractions – dog-fights and cosmic disasters.
Jesus gave his peace to his disciples and encouraged them with these words: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” In God’s time, all distractions will end. At the appropriate time, God will direct us to deal with people’s vices and violence, abuse and oppression. Until then, we pray amidst activity.