Prayer everywhere21 Jun 2022
There are no constraints on when, where or how we pray.
It is in Matthew’s Gospel (6:6-16) that Jesus teaches about prayer. He calls out the ‘look at me’ culture of those who make a great play of praying in public, so as to be thought good people, perhaps without being good. He informs us the Father knows our needs and then teaches the beautiful Lord’s Prayer.
In this article Madonna contributors were asked to talk about the ‘odd places they have prayed’,
but it is clear from the responses there are no odd places, rather prayer forms the backdrop of our lives. No particular time or place is better. As Margaret-Mary Flynn says, ‘prayer is a remarkably portable habit’.
Our prayers may be a Sign of the Cross at the sound of an emergency vehicle going past, or decades of the Rosary. They can be ‘shopping lists’ of wants, thanks for our blessings or a combination of both. While churches may seem more conducive to prayer, it is often during the grind of daily tasks that prayer is said and most welcome.
Clare Deignan says her mother taught her and her sisters to pray while cooking, cleaning, studying, and working. ‘As a typical young person, this translated to me to include praying before and after exams and for a cute guy to call me. Later in college, my friends and I would frequent the same country bar and go line dancing on Thursday nights. We would spend the whole night on the dance floor, and while boot scooting, I also spent most of the night praying silently. Talk about multi-tasking.’
PRAYER FOR CALM
Kate Moriarty finds the daily frenetic pace of trying to get everyone to school can be calmed with the judicious use of morning prayer.
‘It was one particularly terrible morning, when we were running late and I had turned into a shrieking dragon lady, that I started the car for the eight-minute-drive to school. I drew a deep breath, about to launch into yet another rant about co-operation, respect and “why can’t
you just put your shoes away so you can find them next time?”. Instead, I was surprised by what came out of my mouth. “We should say our morning prayers”.
‘Since then, the car ride to school has been the place where we say the prayers we used to start our homeschool day with. We pray in turn for each family member and the day they have ahead of them. We thank God for the blessing of a new day.
‘Reciting the Lord’s Prayer while trying to negotiate a tricky right-hand turn in traffic over tram tracks is not ideal, but it’s what works for us. The children arrive at school at peace, if not always on time.’
We can encounter God in many places, especially in nature, and sometimes quite unexpectedly.
For Maria de Fatima Vieira this occurred while floating in the Atlantic Ocean. ‘I had been feeling exhausted, and in that moment of floating, I encountered God’s rest and peace. On another occasion, I remember being in awe at a flock of birds flying overhead – so much so, that I just stopped on the footpath and gave thanks for the wonder of creation and of God.
‘I’ve prayed while having lunch at a cafe for the people I watched walking past, I’ve prayed while driving, while crossing roads, I’ve prayed in all sorts of places as the Spirit has moved me. Maybe not so odd after all, given God is the ground of our being and is ever present in the world, even in the wings of dawn and the far side of the sea.’
PRAYER FOR NATURE
At home looking out to the trees is Angela McCarthy’s favourite place to pray. ‘I feel that I am in nature and in stillness but there is always bird and insect life activity happening. I am in the world but not of the world when I am in this space. God is present in all of creation and in this space I find it a gentle and seamless movement to transcend worldly busyness and sit with God. It is also a good place to sit quietly with family and friends and have a cuppa or a wine. A blessed space.
Sometimes reflection spaces such as labyrinths can be an aid to prayer. Sr Rita Malavisi likes, where possible, to make labyrinths so that she can walk them as her prayer.
‘A labyrinth is unicursal. One way in, and one way out. You can’t get lost, you don’t have to think. On the way in I release, in the middle I receive a word, inspiration, and on the way out, I reflect. Walking a labyrinth helps me focus on a situation, while the quiet and silence encourages contemplation, allows for personal reflection and insight. I find it a safe container for expressing sorrow or grief. If I can’t make a labyrinth where I am, I try to use a finger labyrinth. I have taught some in aged care to use them too.’
Sometimes others are struck by our prayer stories. Alice Carwardine says her husband considers a story from a Mass during a pilgrimage in Panama for World Youth Day quite strange. ‘We visited a remote village where we had Mass in this hut. The roof had a hole in it and was dripping water into a bucket. At the end of Mass, Father said “I was just watching this bucket of rain water slowly fill and I thought, we could bless the bucket of water and bless one another for safe pilgrimage.” We all thought it was a fantastic idea. Father blessed the bucket of water and we all blessed ourselves.
When I came home and told my husband of the bucket of water that was blessed he said ‘so in the bucket, what if another droplet of water gets added after it is blessed? Does it dilute the holiness of the water? Is that single drop still holy?’ And to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure of the answer and still don’t really know.
PRAYERS FOR THE AGES
Our prayers often change to reflect where we are at life stages.
Peter Fleming says ‘When it’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep, I pick out a few words from a well-known prayer and repeat them as a mantra to go back to sleep, for example, “Thy kingdom come, thy kingdom come…” or “May your name be praised, may your name be praised”. When those phrases don’t carry me back to sleep, I reduce all the travails of life which have occurred to me in that ineffectual wakeful state, to, “Father, Father, Father,” said over and over, in groups of three. To me those words, spoken with a mixture of yearning and regret, capture the whole spirit of the Lord’s Prayer.
‘I have learned that a 707 jet takes two-and-a-half “Hail Marys” between revving up the engines at the end of the runway and take-off. An A380 takes four.
‘Also, perhaps foolishly, I’ve come to think that we can pray, in older age, for our younger selves. After all, the Lord sees all time at once, and the communion of saints is meta-temporal; praying for yourself in the past reminds you that God was caring for you just as much then, in times of hardship, as now.’
Margaret-Mary says, ‘If we are to pray unceasingly, and always and everywhere give thanks, as Saint Paul suggests, there is no place in which prayer doesn’t fit.
‘However, there are a couple of places in which prayer may seem unusual. One is in our own memories. I often find myself reliving moments of embarrassment, or unexpressed anger, failure, unkindness, missed opportunities to speak up, or be brave. Matthew 11:28 is helpful here. “Come to me all you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest”.
‘I imagine Jesus sitting next to me on the sofa. He has just made us a cup of tea. He takes a sip, and says, “You seem a bit sad. What’s on your mind?” So we drink our tea together, and I tell him about it all, and he listens. Then he says, “Next time you find yourself in that memory, why don’t we go there together?” And I think about that.’
PLACE IN OUR WORLD
Another place that may seem unusual to pray over is our life world. An early task in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola is to write an outline of your own personal place in the world. Your name, your parents’ and grandparents’ names, where you live, schooling, your work, your nationality and so forth, until you have a picture of your unique place in time and space. So many things about you, from the colour of your eyes to the past history of your forebears, you cannot change. As you reflect on this, there are rich opportunities for gratitude, for savouring of blessings, for understanding and forgiveness. Perhaps you can see patterns in your life, turning points, decisions which meant taking one way, relinquishing another, and unexpected blessings that emerged.
Edmund Campion says each day, walking for an hour through Sydney’s Centennial Park, he prays for remembered lists of dead people: ‘my family, literary folk, university friends, women in my life, teachers at school and in the seminary, and fellow priests. Catholics do not let go of our dead. Though they are dead to us, God can still reach them, since there is no time in eternity. For the living, especially those sick or in need, as I walk through the park I pray the Rosary, that universal meditation on the life of Jesus. Back home, I encounter the culture of Jesus in the psalms of the daily Office – those psalms were his prayerbook.’
There is comfort in knowing that God hears our prayers, no matter when or where we pray.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Madonna magazine.