You Are Already Praying

March 1st, 2013
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In its ancient, monastic form, prayer was what a monk or nun did in chapel—and when they set out from chapel, their prayer continued in the office, study, field, classroom, and kitchen. Working in a laboratory, managing a staff, performing surgery or caring for a child can be part of a life of prayer. Whether washing the dishes, weeding the garden, or chairing a decisive meeting, we can be at prayer.

I know a monk masterful at spiritual guidance who was invited to speak at a conference and asked to fill the “spiritual block.” He replied: “I’m really not interested in spirituality; I am interested in life.” When a person came to see him filled with bitterness toward God, his life a series of disappointments, the wise monk advised him to “. . . take up Italian cooking, or plant a rose garden. Forget about God, let God find you in the kitchen or in the garden enjoying your life.”

My tradition teaches “prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words” (Book of Common Prayer, Catechism, 856). Voices of many spiritual traditions echo this inclusive definition of prayer. A friend, now in her eighties, tells me “prayer is a form of life.” An intern in his early twenties says that his “real work is to live in the presence of God, and express that presence in everything I do. Prayer is a mindset, an attitude, dedicating every act, no matter how seemingly trivial it may be to God. And yes, that goes for doing laundry!”

My work brings me close to the lives of people. After working as a prison chaplain, my work shifted to parish life. In rural, city, suburban, and inner-city parishes, the people that I meet inspire my prayer. As a mother, wife, and priest, I know for myself what I hear from my people: the monastic ideal of a life set apart from the world for prayer is not our life. We need another way. We want our faith and our life to connect. People pray about their work as a doctor, teacher, banker, or limousine driver, but don’t call it prayer. They pray for their kids, their friends, and their marriages, but don’t think of it as prayer. Respect for the natural world and enjoyment of its beauty feels sacred, but we don’t think of it as a prayer. When we create or witness art, it touches our spiritual lives, but we struggle for a language that acknowledges artistic expression as prayer. In sport or physical movement we sense God’s presence, but how do we pray in our physical body? Putting our faith into action, doing things for others, giving back may be our way of being spiritual, but can actions be prayers?

Your experience of prayer may not be peaceful or quiet or set apart from your daily life. It may be embedded in the actions you take, the compassion you show, or the art you create. Perhaps prayer moves through you in love and respect for the beauty of the natural world. Or gratitude wells up in you while walking a country road or watching a child at play. Maybe you close the office door and ask God for help, or you try praying on the treadmill at the health club before heading home, or while out on a run, but is that prayer? Maybe you talk to God about your day while commuting but you think you should find a better time for prayer. You feel that all these efforts and attempts somehow fall short of truly being prayer.

Our lives often are too noisy, too conflicted, too worldly, too complicated to have the quality of what we imagine as prayer. And yet, our lives are filled with prayer; prayer in actions, preaching by doing, patience in a moment of trial, stopping for a silent moment before speaking, closing the office door before a difficult decision or meeting. In busy, over-extended, challenging lives, prayer takes a variety of forms: an action, a kindness, an attitude, a hard decision, and a creative endeavor.

Even when we are distracted and busy, sacred moments break through: the nudge to go in one direction and not another, an intuition we’re given, the awe that overcomes us as we listen to music. God breaks in as a surge of creativity, a supply of patience, a kind word just when we need it.

A lawyer arguing a case in court, a parent comforting a child, or a postal worker greeting the next person in line: each of us has an opportunity, every day, to treat our life and work as a sacred calling, as holy as the work of a priest at the altar.

Rich, poor, and middle income; black, brown, white, gay, and straight; young people, seniors, and many in their middle years struggle to find time for prayer. If only “prayers-on-the-go” counted as real prayer, we say to ourselves.

They do.

It all counts. The desire to connect with God, to pray, is a seed planted within us by the Holy Spirit. We don’t plant it, God does. We water it. We foster its growth. And when we do, its branches begin to extend into everything we do, all day long, all week long. Our daily lives become a living prayer—our response to the unceasing presence of God within us and around us.

excerpted from: You Are Already Praying: Stories of God at Work by Cathy H. George ©Morehouse Publishing, an imprint of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York. Used with permission.

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