If you were to ask me what ‘prayer’ is, I would most likely tell you that it is a conversation with Jesus – a conversation that requires both listening and speaking. However this definition of prayer is beginning to crack and fall apart…..
St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that we are to “rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
To “pray without ceasing”…. Obviously St. Paul is not telling us to go around talking all the time, or even listening for that matter (you can listen while asleep for one thing!).
So what is St. Paul talking about?
In the past, I’ve heard folks say that St Paul is telling us to pray in tongues – something that can be done simultaneous with other activities as when “my spirit prays…my mind is unfruitful” (I Corinthians 14:14). And to a certain extent I think this is correct….
Yet I’m thinking that St. Paul’s comment in 1 Thessalonians is also pointing forward to something more…
Brother Lawrence, a humble 1600’s monk, once wrote that:
“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I posses God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees as the blessed sacrament.”
This is closer to what I think St. Paul is talking about…being aware of the Presence of God no matter where you are or what you are doing.
Somewhere along the line in the Vineyards circles I frequent, I heard it said that we are a “people of the Presence.” We don’t seek or run after signs and wonders, miracles, or even salvations and mercy ministries. We simply run after the Presence of God, running after Him no matter where He goes.
The people of the Presence; a people so love struck with Jesus that every breath inhales and exhales Him.
Pat Loughery, a fellow Vineyardite and lover of the ancient Celtic church, put it this way a few months ago:
“God is present with me at all times and in a broad variety of ways, many of which I do not yet recognize. God is present to me as I speak and attempt to listen, and as I pray from the Gospels and the Psalms, and as I gather with others in a time of celebration and worship. And God is also present to me as I see the changing colors in the leaves of the trees along my commute to work, in the wisdom and humor I hear in my children, in the way my soul sings when I see a beautiful cloud or hear the beauty of a well-tuned engine.
“God is present with me when I recognize the transcendent in my everyday life.
“So I intentionally, mindfully pursue God in that everyday life. I want to be aware of the beauty of the life that I live, whether that beauty comes from a Psalm or a child’s smile or reading a well-crafted phrase or seeing a trout on the rise. When I’m aware of those transcendent moments, I see the veil between the mundane and the Holy being pierced beyond repair.
“If those moments of mindfulness simply turn me toward being thankful for the written word or a lovely smile or a beautiful fish, I’ve missed the ultimate point. Instead, they should turn me toward their Creator who speaks abundantly and wittily and profoundly in these moments.
“If seeking and perceiving Presence is the point of prayer, then the activities of prayer can be profound or mundane. Cooking can be prayer; tuning a bicycle can be prayer; attending a concert can be prayer; showering and breathing can be prayer. If I recognize and sense and pursue God in these activities, they can be prayer-full.
“Prayer has become for me a challenge to open my spirit and my eyes to recognize the Holy in all that I see and experience. Not all that I experience is Holy, but the Trinitarian God has so drenched this life in the colors of Presence that it is nearly impossible to miss that Presence.” (emphasis added)