Pray as you go slow
By Anne Rennie23 Jul 2022
Good prayer happens when we surrender the time to it.
The first prayer of my day is to thank God that I’m alive to hear the beautiful carillon of birdsong that tumbles through the dawn and eases me from my downy slumber.
What a joy to hear this canticle of creation. It’s a suburban concerto and sets me up with gladness to be getting on with the day that lies unscripted ahead of me. I love the serenity of the morning when the world is still quiet and when I can think and plan and breathe out in gratitude for the twenty-four hours ahead, even though they will be predictable in their course.
And so, I go off to work in my school where prayer is a central element of the community. It is part of the rhythm of the day, a sliver of time untimetabled, an opportunity to enter the spaciousness of the eternal. My young students pray for many things: for a sick nonna or a pet having an operation, for their brother doing VCE or for the Maths test later in the day. They pray for a lonely neighbour or a friend who is having a birthday; they pray for peace, to win a netball match, for those who have died and that the next year will be a better year. They pray for Melburnians, Victorians and Australians, people they will never know, but wish well. Their prayers are heartfelt and clumsy and grammatically inchoate, but they are beautiful in their utterance.
Sometimes prayer is simply sorting things out, informally chatting with God, and does not necessarily have the gravitas that it might have on more liturgical occasions. Sometimes we pray with a light heart, gladdened by joys and surprises. Sometimes awe and wonder elicit a spontaneous outburst of gratitude. And there are those times when prayer is the most we can offer for those who are suffering. We do know that during the pandemic people prayed more often, perhaps needing divine reassurance or the sense of support and structure provided by belonging to a worshipping community in uncertain times.
Good prayer happens when we surrender the time to it. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (534) prayer is the raising of one’s heart and mind to God. In this encounter we enter a personal relationship with God and join with all those past and present – the communion of saints – who have prayed with the joys and challenges of their own lives and times. Our private prayer is our resting place in God in this time of stillness and surrender. In this slowing down, we enable our bodies to stop and our minds to quieten. Here we can enjoy time away from the fray, those demands and distractions which can overburden us with busyness.
I know that I benefit from prayerful go-slow times. They replenish me as I take spiritual stock or just sit with my thoughts. Many have written of the necessity of honouring this prayerful pause with silence, or if that cannot be attained, at least some peace and quiet away from the usual demands of availability or immediate response or the multi-tasking that can lead to splintered thoughts and fragmented efforts.
Prayer is a single task in a multi-tasking world and we are all the better for time deliberately devoted to it.
In Matthew’s Gospel (6: 5-8) Jesus reminds us to pray in a gentle way and not to be flamboyantly pious or visible, but to pray with intention and discernment on one’s own.
Our prayer lives, whether private or public, remain a safe and sacred space for a meaningful spiritual encounter, wherever and whatever shape that takes. And we are well advised if we follow theologian Frederick Buechner’s advice to Go where your best prayer takes you.
This article first appeared in Madonna magazine Winter 2022 edition. Madonna is a quarterly magazine that promotes spirituality in daily life. The prayer reflections in pray.com.au are taken from the magazine. For three months’ worth of reflections on the daily lectionary readings, subscribe to Madonna magazine at www.madonnamagazine.com.au.