Prayer as Soul Food

Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

I grew up with the idea that prayer was about telling God what I wanted. But it didn’t take long to discover the problem with that way of thinking. When I was 8 years-old I prayed for a new bike but didn’t get one. Later in life I prayed for a sick friend, but he died anyway. Prayer befuddled me.

Along my spiritual journey my ideas about God and prayer have shifted. Let me share a few of those shifts with you:

First, my imagination around God changed. I used to think of God as some far-off being in a place called heaven. But I’ve come to believe that God is everywhere, including within me and you.

Second, I used to think of prayer as my means of changing God’s mind, getting God to do what I wanted. But I’ve come to believe that prayer isn’t about changing God; it’s about changing me. That doesn’t mean that prayer doesn’t change things outside of me, but I believe that most often those changes start in the one who prays.

Third, I used to think that prayer was all about my talking to God, as if God didn’t already know what was on my mind. But I’ve come to believe that prayer is more about coming awake to God’s constant, loving presence.

Richard Rohr is a theologian whose writings have provided guidance on my journey. Watch this video and listen to how Rohr defines this gift we call prayer.

Prayer as doing all things in conscious union with God who is always around us and within us – that’s a definition of prayer that makes sense to me. And that definition has changed how I pray. Let me share two prayer practices that have become food for my soul.

First, there’s Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is an ancient practice and pretty much the exact opposite of what my prayer life used to be. Centering prayer is silently and consciously dwelling in God’s presence, whereas my old prayer life was constant talking at God. I believe that God is always with me, but I’m not always aware of that fact and this practice helps me to remember.

The practice itself is incredibly simple. I sit in a quiet place, consciously surrender myself to God and sit in silence. When I get distracted by thoughts, I let them pass by like leaves on a river. And I do that for 10-20 minutes. That’s it. Simple. But not easy. I’m so used to “doing” that I find it hard to simply “be” with God, and that’s why this is such a powerful prayer practice. Centering Prayer places God at the center, the sole focus of my attention. I can’t explain why or how this practice changes me, but it does. I find myself more peaceful and joyful throughout the day, and more conscious of God’s presence in daily life. You can find more about Centering Prayer here.

My second prayer practice is Holding in God’s Presence. One of my greatest struggles with prayer had been what’s often called “supplication”, the practice of praying for the needs of others. Did I really need to ask God to heal the little girl down the street from cancer? Didn’t God already know? Doesn’t God already care? And what if that little girls dies? Did I not pray right? Did we fail to get enough people to pray? And does God’s willingness to heal really depend upon how many pray, or how well?

I shared all those concerns with my spiritual director and he suggested that when I want to pray for someone in need, I simply picture them in my mind and then imagine them in the healing arms of Jesus. And I hold them there for a moment. I don’t tell God what the person needs or what God should do. I assume God already knows. Because I believe that all things are connected by God in ways we can’t imagine, I believe that when I carry that healing intention in my heart it changes things in ways I’ll never understand. I still pray with people in need, and when I do I use the language of traditional supplication, asking for God’s healing and comfort, but in my private prayer life I simply hold people in God’s presence.

If your prayer life feeds your soul, whatever your prayer life looks like, that’s great! But if your prayer life feels stale or if, like me, you’re more than a little confused by this mystery called prayer, I’d invite you to try some new practices.

What prayer practices feed your soul?

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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