“I just don’t feel like I’m praying enough.”
Those words have come out of my mouth to multiple spiritual directors throughout my adult years; variations on them have been said to me by people I serve as a spiritual director. We all carry an image of what “praying enough” would look like—30 minutes of centering prayer twice a day; an early morning lectio divina before the children wake up (and never earlier than expected!); a rosary where our mind never wanders to to-do lists or weekend plans.
Perhaps that was behind the disciples’ request in this Gospel: Seeing Jesus simply be who he was, they longed to become the same way, and wanted some kind of key that would get them to their ideal.
“Teach us to pray.”
As I was taught by a wise woman who directed my formation as a spiritual director, there is prayer, and there is Prayer. We are already, effortlessly, in Prayer—in intimate, unceasing communion between God and our soul. Little “p” prayer is any of the many, varied methods that awakens us to this reality and enables us to live out that communion.
Jesus knew, even if the disciples didn’t, that they were already in Prayer with the God who was as close as a parent—Abba, Daddy; Amma, Mama. So he offered them words and stories to awaken them to it. God, your name is Holy—be present here. Give us what we need each day. Put us in right relationship with one another.
Prayer is persistent, even to the point of inconvenience. God is present to the midnight knock at the door, to the requests we repeat over and over.
Where it gets difficult for us is the issue of “answering” our prayers. We know, too harshly and well, that not all of our prayers get answered. Babies die. We lose the job. The hurricane, the flood, the fire does not spare our home. The marriage falls apart, and not amicably. What, then, of our sincere prayers? What, then, of that mothering, fathering God Jesus refers to?
My best human, faltering answer comes from the wisdom of our tradition—that the answer to our prayers is always, as Richard Rohr says, the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is being awakened to Prayer, the divine communion with God who loves us completely. And as we awaken to it, we become Prayer: a living channel of the Holy Spirit’s divine movement in the world. We become not just the pray-er, but the answer to the prayers.
We are, like the friend at midnight, stirred awake to meet the needs of people crying out under the weight of oppression, injustice, un-freedom.
We receive those who ask: Those who struggle with doubt; who question their sense of belonging or worth in a world that denies them either; who are not content with easy answers to the problems of our time.
We search with those who seek: The ones who seek justice; the ones who seek not just allies but accomplices; the ones who seek a lived faith that wrestles with the messiness of the world instead of holding out for a distant heaven.
We open the door to those who knock: People seeking refuge and asylum; people without homes who will wilt in the heat or freeze in the cold; people who demand a space in the rooms where decisions are made when they have been excluded for too long.
The presence of the Holy Spirit dwells within us, a gift offered freely by God our loving parent. As a result, we are, more often than we realize, the answer to the prayers spoken so urgently to God. We become the presence of God in a world aching for it.
Katie Lacz is a mother, an M.Div., and a spiritual director living outside Boulder, CO. She currently works as Program Associate for the Women’s Ordination Conference. A former Jesuit Volunteer (Raleigh ’06-’07), she continues to seek the magis while living in the messy and beautiful work of raising her two small children.