Some time in my mid-twenties I began to feel that I just didn’t know how to pray—and also was certain that there must be one way to do it, and that someone could teach me. I asked my priest for help—and he did—but not in a way that answered the question once and for all. I’ve learned that prayer is as much an orientation as it is a practice, and like any practice, you have to do it over and over and over again, in all kinds of moods and places and moments.
I’m always on the lookout for descriptions and advice given by others on how to pray, in part because most people who write on this subject acknowledge the challenges. In my summer reading I came across this beautiful description of prayer from Pádriag Ó Tuama that I’ve been waiting to share with you. The quote comes from the very end of his book In the Shelter, p. 245.
Peace and blessings,
Neither I nor the poets I love have found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God and my own disorder. I say hello to chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrolled story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet.
Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast.