And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.
~ John O’Donohue ~
The time that I moved across the continent to Canada, I thought I carried my life in two suitcases.
I was a headstrong sixteen year old that refused to allow her parents to go with her as she started a new life in the wilderness of British Columbia. So I packed up my belongings (and forgot a few essentials, like winter sweaters) and headed west. I remember my bookbag felt like a sixty ton weight on my shoulders, especially because I carried each one of my many favorite poetry and prayer collections.
As a writer, I cling to books and words a bit too firmly for my own good. Words are miraculous gifts and sometimes grumbling demons. They give shape to hidden images and emotions in a way that communicates them to the world. They can also enclose me in the dungeon of analytic thought. Books, as tabernacles in which sacred words dwell, are well stocked on my shelves no matter where I go. In other words, I tend to carry too many books and journals with me as I travel.
Today, I begin packing for a semester in Peru. It is difficult to anticipate three months in advance what I will need or what books I will want to read or how many sweaters to bring.
This morning, as I ever-so-slowly woke, I heard a message that there is nothing I can bring that will satisfy the disquieted anxiety about leaving. There is no belonging that can satisfy the longings of the spirit. The most important part of the journey is not what I carry, but whether I will allow myself to be carried by prayer. Not just the rote, ritualistic kind of prayer – but the kind of unveiling of the spirit that comes if I lay down in the fields each evening. If I will seek to know God first in the silence of each morning, and live the rest of my day in between as if everything depended on those encounters with the holy One.
This easier imagined than done. For someone who loves words too much, I sometimes find it difficult to pray. Words can get in the way of falling into a state of childlike awe and wonder. I drift off into thinking about e-mails or what a person thinks of me. I lament over past mistakes, rather than taking off my mask and just lying at the feet of Jesus. My mind wanders when my heart just wants to be still and nourished.
Jesus taught us that human beings need more than bread to live and be well fed; they need the living word of God. In his few years that he spent in active teaching and healing, Jesus often retreated to pray alone in the wilderness. He taught his disciples to stay awake in the night, dressed and alert in prayer for the time when the Master returns home.
Often, I find that the robes are prayer are a last resort item in the wardrobe rather than the first preferred outfit. Recently, I heard a sermon about the falseness of the phrase, “well, I have done everything I can, now all I can do is pray!” I do everything in my feeble will, pack all of my suitcases filled to the brim, until I realize that I am missing something. Then, and only then, I go to God.
But what if prayer was my first, rather than my last, resort? What if I prayed as if I truly depended on the living word of God, the stillness of Her deep waters to replenish my mind and body? What does it mean to let the rush of light enter into the window of our souls each morning?
What if I say less, and pray more?
I have found that this summer especially taught me that we are called to become a living prayer, a pray-er, spoken directly from the lips of God. When we are carried by this voice, the sounds of the world are less powerful over our serenity. We can let God speak through us for others, and for our world, as a way for the Kingdom to break in and enter. Prayer is our connection to the heavens that never relents in its peace-giving and mountain-moving powers.
Right now, I am feeling tired and a bit daunted by a week of preparation with many things yet to be done. I have all of my “most important posessions” currently spread on my friend’s living room floor. It is easy to get anxious during transitions, though all it takes of a moment of silence to let go. All it takes is a moment to remember that no matter what I bring with me or know about this journey, I am a carried pray-er. It is one found word, God, that I long for my lips to know.
Merciful God, your Word is all that we need. Let us come before you each moment, dawn and evening, seeking to know You. Let us pray as Jesus taught us, broken and wanting to be grown by your spirit. Let us be carried by the strength that is Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Rest In Prayer
The sun hears the fields talking about effort
And the sun
And whispers to
“Why don’t the fields just rest, for
I am willing to do
To help them
Rest, my dears,
St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) from Love Poems from God (Daniel Ladinsky)