Here at the monastery, praying is a significant part of our conscious activity. We are in church four hours every day, chanting psalms, sharing the Eucharist, taking even more time for private time. It is a common sight to enter the church and see a monk or two sitting alone, praying.
Those are the more conscious dimensions to prayer. Saint Benedict envisioned work as prayer. Labor done in and for God is prayer. One’s entire life can be considered a prayer to God.
But most of the time we restrict our notion of prayer to the more formal and focused sense — words specifically aimed heavenward to God. But that does not minimize or diminish the broader and, I think, more generous sense of prayer.
God lives in us. God has made His home in us, through the gift of His son, Jesus, and by action of the Spirit. That sentence leaves a lot to unpack and there are volumes, thousands of volumes, written on the indwelling of the divine in the human.
I take it as a given that such a presence lives in us. The many and finer points I will leave to the theologians.
One thought that often occurs to me is the problem that many prayers seem to go unanswered. Many, if not most, of the things we pray for never come to pass.
Those that do seem to be answered — say, for example, a bright and sunny wedding day — may be nothing more than the shift of the winds. One cannot say for sure that God heard a bride’s plea for no rain and accordingly rearranged the weather patterns.
I suppose no harm is done if the bride thinks herself so favored and leaves in gratitude an extra bouquet at the altar. If life goes well, she may not have to think of prayer in any deeper terms than requests for things, like alternative cloud formations.
But she will, with her husband, struggle to seek truth, raise their children and try and instill in them a sense of right and wrong, a sense of goodness, a conscience informed by fairness and compassion.
Parents may think they are raising just children, but there is more at play. Whether they are aware of it or not, they are allowing to grow in their offspring the presence of God.
To the extent that their children grow and see beauty and embrace it, see wonderful things and delight in them, and learn that there must be suffering so as to give birth to a true good, the actions of those parents who raised them are the very “stuff” of prayer.
We tend to forget that there were times in the life of Jesus when His prayers went unanswered. He asked His Father to ease or remove His suffering. On the cross, He cried out to a God who seemed, or perhaps did, abandon him. So Jesus was more like us than perhaps we normally think.
I do not know if He was ever fully aware of the extraordinary magnetism of His brief life. There were times, according to the Gospels, when He raised questions about Himself. And there were times He did not know the road that lay ahead. And there were times that He stumbled and fell.
Yes, like us, in all things.
God saw grace and power in Jesus and raised Him. From there, we were and are the next point of entry. Weakness, doubt, fear and uncertainty gave way to the gift of divine and eternal life which lives and breathes in each of us.
So, we pray here, as Jesus did in another place and another time. But we are aware that He is here as well.
Maybe it is because of that gift to us, in us, that we take heart in all the voices, cries, whispers and human striving that take place here and beyond these cloistered walls. God is everywhere, in everyone.
All of life is the prayer of Someone far greater and wiser than us. His prayers are good. They are what make us good, and are what light a fire in our hearts for more.
More will be given. But first, we must watch and pray, and teach our young as best we can.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.