Reflection for Lent 1B
I have a confession. I am not very good at praying. More specifically, I am not very good at praying in “typical ways.” Particularly, I do not kneel on my knees at my bedside and pour out a series of confessions and petitions to God. Although I did do that when I was child. Then I remember praying for each person in my grammar school classroom, beginning with the child in the first chair of the first row and going chair by chair to the last person.
When I found the Episcopal Church, I prayed on Sunday mornings, I prayed when I came to church. With my young family we prayed before meals saying a simple prayer that Dan remembered from his childhood, “Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts”…. I also prayed with our children before bedtime, a little prayer that looked back over the day, at what had gone well and what had not.
For a long time I prayed the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer. I’d rise early in the morning and move through morning prayer, aim to say evening prayer before dinner, and pray compline before bedtime. I loved the idea of a cycle of prayers but having young children made a consistent cycle of prayer challenging. Once, for about four months, I prayed my way through the psalms.
I once had a spiritual director who suggested to me that walking my dogs was a form of prayer. I found this idea pretty radical, something you’ll understand if you’ve ever tried to walk more than one dog at the same time, moving as fast as you can as you attempt to control the dog and teach them good walking manners while also hoping to wear them out, with a futile hope that they will be quiet for the rest of the day. Buddhists find washing dishes or chewing food prayerful. There is the potential for any ordinary activity to be prayer, if that is our intention.
Eventually I settled on a daily practice of 30 minutes of meditation. I did not realize that meditating was an ancient form of prayer in mystical Christianity.
It was in seminary that I learned about mystical Christianity and famous women mystics like Teresa of Avila.
Teresa of Avila lived in the 16th century in the Castile region of south central Spain. Born to a wealthy family Teresa was social, friendly, attractive, and outgoing. She joined a convent after the death of her mother, primarily to avoid marriage, or at least to put off marriage for as long as possible. Typical of Christians during the time of the Inquisitions, she was highly religious. But she was never one to follow the rules not could she blindly obey what was being enforced by the church hierarchy. She had her own sense of God, her own understanding of faith, and in due time she fashioned her own way of being a faithful, practicing Christian. Although her way was unique she survived every inquiry from the Inquisition, despite many investigations.
In those days the church frowned upon silent prayer and enforced the idea that people could only pray the ascribed spoken prayers provided by the church. But Teresa’s mind grew bored and weary with prayer that used words. She would pray them in a rote, mindless, meaningless way that she found mind-numbing. Only when she fell into contemplative silent prayer was she able to pray in a way that became transformational for her. In the silence Teresa experienced God’s presence.
Teresa’s two most famous reflections on prayer are the Interior Castle and the garden. The Interior Castle is a metaphor that describes the action of praying as if one’s interior life were like a castle with many rooms. Moving through the eight of the rooms of the interior castle one develops an ever deeper awareness of one’s relationship with God. The garden metaphor of prayer describes the prayer life in four steps, marked by four different ways a garden might be watered.
Beginners on the path of prayer are like a person trying to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of weeds. God assists beginners by pulling up the weeds and planting good seeds. The seeds God plants in us represent our potential relationship with God, but, they need to be watered. Watering happens when we pray or try to pray. Teresa writes that the effort to pray happens in four stages analogous to watering. The effort moves from lugging water to irrigation to a good rain storm. Lugging water is what prayer may feel like for the novice prayer - laborious and not very effective. Irrigation is prayer that is more effective, but still something is lacking or the effort remains a challenge. When a garden is watered by rain it represents those moments when our prayer life is perfectly aligned with God and we feel the peace of God’s presence.
Nurturing our relationship with God, self, and others, is the focus of Lent. Nurturing these relationships through prayer and other acts of living out a vibrant Christian faith is the intent of our Lenten practices. This year we are using the book, “The Restoration Project” to help us explore how we can nurture these relationships. Each Sunday during coffee hour we will have opportunities for exploration. You are invited to consider one of them. Perhaps you will want to sit at the table with the jigsaw puzzle and chat with others working on the puzzle. Perhaps you will want to take on knitting or crocheting a prayer shawl. Prayer shawl ministries are powerful forms of prayer, each stitch of the shawl represents a prayer, and when given to a person who is sick or in need, that person is literally wrapped in prayer. Maybe you will want to pray with color or you will want to discuss the themes in “The Restoration Project,” or maybe you would prefer to sit quietly and read the book? Each table in the Fellowship Hall will provide you with a different one of these opportunities and each Sunday you are invited to consider which table you’d like to sit at. We’ve also started a blog title “Soul Restoration” with meditations being offered on the themes of the week. The first meditation was posted on Ash Wednesday and considered what it means to observe the world around us in an effort to see God. The second reflection is also posted and it reflects on “Watching for God” which is our theme for this week. You can find the link for the blog in the Lenten brochure, on the Facebook page and on the website.
Now I’ve come to understand that whether I choose to pray while walking, pray with silence or with words, pray with color or while knitting a prayer shawl, pray with music or pray in another form, it is my intention that makes it prayer. I am praying with intentionally when I pay attention, observe what is going on around me, look for God, and become mindful of how the activity I am doing in prayer offers the potential of growing my relationship with God, self, and others.
I invite you in this season of Lent to explore what prayer is for you and how prayer leads you into a deeper awareness of God’s presence.