So here I am, next to the last leg of my journey back to the United States, back to my family, back home. It’s very easy to get caught up in the utter monotony of waiting, of doing absolutely nothing but sitting around and watching movies on my laptop in my bunk. A lot of guys do just that. I cannot. I have to get out, even if it’s raining or snowing, even if it’s stupid cold outside, even if it means grabbing some coffee at the nearby Green Beans Coffee (the sacrifices we make, right?) or sitting around and reading at the USO. I have to fight the monotony and the boredom that can easily consume you at BAF.
And this, I have found, is precisely where some of our modern notions of prayer really begin to break down. Well-defined prayer times and even particular prayer forms I find maddeningly difficult in this environment. For one, it’s hard to actually get away, to find some quiet time to yourself, to think, to pray. Heck, even right now I’m sitting here writing this in a USO with people watching movies and playing video games all around me. My only getaway is a pair of headphones and my wife’s “Happy Dance” Spotify playlist. And have you ever tried private prayer in a noisy open bay barracks building filled with a hundred or so noisy Soldiers that stay up all hours of the night? It just ain’t happening, at least not for me.
And it is precisely here, at this moment, that Roberta Bondi’s words on prayer profoundly resonate with me:
“I was able to lay aside my modern assumptions about prayer…I abandoned the notion that prayer is basically verbal petition and praise, and came to see that prayer is a sharing of the whole self and an entire life with God.”*
Bondi’s words force my mind to immediately jump to the story of Brother Lawrence and his concept of practicing the presence of God. I appreciate Lawrence’s forwardness and admittance that he struggled with scheduled prayer times and structured forms of prayer. He often found his mind wandering when praying the hours, and the littlest of distractions would throw any semblance of routine off track. He realized that he just wasn’t all that great at prayer, at least not formally speaking. I feel ya Brother…I feel ya.
However, Brother Lawrence rediscovered for himself the concept that one’s work and life could, in fact, be a sort of prayer lifted up to God. I say rediscovered primarily because he did not invent this concept of prayer, though Brother Lawrence is most often associated with this sort of prayer. Anyways, Lawrence, as well as Bondi, brilliantly capture this rather non-Western, non-Protestant American concept of prayer as being a living, breathing, organic thing; that is to say, prayer can be viewed as our life and human experience. Our humanity, our interactions with each other, our formal and informal prayers said privately and corporately, our work as a response to God’s grace is in itself a kind of prayer.
This sort of prayer can be a difficult thing to grasp. It can also be a difficult concept to accept as prayer. Many would argue that it’s not prayer at all, and while I most certainly respect people’s freedom to disagree, I would hope that those same folks would respect my freedom to seek communion with God how I choose, especially if they are historically founded modes of connecting with God. Don’t get me wrong though, I by no means have a solid grasp on practicing the presence of God, which is why I guess it’s called practice, huh?
I say all of this simply to point out that prayer is organic. It lives and breathes and moves with us because it is a sharing of our very selves, it is how we communicate with God where we are at in our lives and with whatever tools we have available. Thanks be to God that we can connect with our Creator in an unimaginable litany of ways. We must constantly remember that God is bigger than us, bigger than our conceptions of prayer, bigger than our petty differences and disagreements about what counts as prayer and what does not. And ultimately, God is the God of love and grace, the God of communion and reconciliation, the God who constantly yearns for us to respond to divine grace in whatever way possible. Thanks be to God for being unboxable, uncontainable, and ever-seeking communion with us and with all of Creation.
* Yamasaki, April. Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 2013. Page 58.