How do you talk to God?
The short answer for Christians is simple: We talk to God through prayer. But that raises other questions. Is there a right way to pray? Should we pray to praise God? Or to ask for His grace? Or maybe to get ourselves out of a fix?
If prayer were easy, the apostles may not have asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The question, commonly asked of rabbis at the time, led Jesus to say what might be the most widely known prayer in history, beginning with the familiar, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name….’
There is no doubt that prayer was at the center of Jesus’ life. Scripture tells us that he frequently “withdrew” from the company of others to pray in quiet. At other times he prayed with his disciples or with the multitudes. The practice was followed by his disciples and other Christians, and our greatest saints, theologians and mystics had prayer at the center of their lives.
Our church makes it easy in some ways, beginning with the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer book has page after page of prayers, most taken directly from scripture, intended to help us invoke God’s grace for our families and friends as well as for our nation and peace. (There is even a prayer for commerce and industry.) But we also are asked to pray individually or in small groups with only our hearts to guide us.
“Prayer is an act of love.” –St. Teresa of Avila
I’d be hard pressed to say there is a right way or a wrong way to pray. Prayer is something that we each can shape in ways that best establish our own relationship with God. This might mean for some of us that not even words are necessary. St. Teresa of Avila said, “Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”
I find wordless prayer in art — a simple kiln might work for me. I also find it in the more conventional fashion, perhaps kneeling at bedside, or reading the prayer book either silently or during our services. Others find it in nature, or in the face of other people.
Prayer also is about relationships. This is clear in the Lord’s Prayer, which describes a relationship in the first two words — “Our Father….” Scripture refers to God in many ways — shepherd, lord and king, among other things — but “father” is the most common metaphor.
It’s also clear that, for prayer to work we have to keep at it. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable that instructs us to persist at prayer and not lose heart. In the parable, a poor widow sought justice from a wicked judge. He wouldn’t give in a first but finally granted her wish just to get rid of her. Jesus then said, “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him?”
The really hard part of prayer? The Archbishop of Canterbury says the hard part is just getting started. I don’t disagree. After that, follow your heart. Talk to God in ways that work for you. You can pray to thank God or to seek His grace. Or pray for that homeless person rattling a cup at the corner of Bird and Dixie Highway. Or pray for a sick relative, or even that business meeting that’s coming up next week. God has promised He will listen.
–The Rev. Jo-Ann Murphy
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, leads a beautiful version of the Lord’s Prayer in a video for the Just Pray U.K. campaign.