What do you do when you don’t feel like praying? Prayer has been the life-blood of my faith for the past thirty-five years at least. Yet, I’ve reached a time period in my life when praying doesn’t come easily. In fact, it seems darned near impossible. I used to get up early in the morning regularly and “pray” for at least fifteen to thirty minutes a day. And how did I pray? Well, when I was a teenager I had read a book on prayer by Agnes Sanford, an Episcopal lay woman, called The Healing Light. In this book Agnes talks about seeing (in her imagination) the light of God surrounding the person or situation for which she was praying. In this form of prayer she might also visualize Christ being present with the person or standing in the midst of the situation, and she trusted that God’s love, light and power were all flowing into the situation for God’s highest and best to come about. I utilized this form of prayer, and others, with great effect. I found a certain peace in surrendering all things to God in an imaginative and creative way.
I’ve explored other forms of prayer…and I even teach courses on prayer, exploring multiple techniques and approaches: petitionary prayer, silent prayer, singing prayer, chanting words of scripture, visual prayer (using paint or colors), journaling prayer, intercessory prayer, and the list goes on. In seminary we even studied how to write formal prayers according to ancient church formulas. My toolbox for prayer is full. And I seemed to have forgotten how to use all those tools…or they just aren’t sufficient for the job at hand.
Many Christian commentators throughout the centuries have admitted that there come times in life when the well-springs of prayer dry up…or at least they seem to. The 16th-century mystic writer, St. John of the Cross, wrote a poem about such times called, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” We use this phrase “dark night of the soul” now to mean any time we feel completely depleted of the tools to engage life fully, especially one’s spiritual life. At such a time as this I am reminded of these haunting words from the chorus of a K.D. Lang song,
“Fate must have a reason.
Why else endure the season
Of hollow soul.
The ground on which we leave on
How strangely fuels the season
Of hollow soul.”
K.D. speaks of “Fate” when I would speak of God, but the sentiment is the same: God must have a reason; why else endure this season of hollow soul? And so, in such hollow times, I have to trust Jesus’ words, “Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” So, when I have difficulty praying, sometimes I open a book…
And this morning I “just happened” to read these words in a book by the 20th-century Protestant mystic, Glenn Clark, called A Man’s Reach, where he discusses the “problem” of way of prayer:
Some people come to me with all sorts of problems of the Way. They say they have achieved considerable success at prayer and in many cases feel that their prayers are answered, and then again they seem to get no answers and no feeling that there is Anyone to hear; they are lost in dryness….[T]he basic answer to every problem of prayer is the same answer: GIVE ALL. Hold back nothing. Insist on being used entirely of God. Feel ourselves transmuted into love, without reservation or adulteration or hesitation.
And then I encountered these words (in the Jewish book of prayers I have on the shelf) which pick up on the theme of “dryness” on which Mr. Clark dwells:
Prayer invites God to let His presence suffuse our spirits, to let His will prevail in our lives. Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will. (Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayerbook, 1975)
There are definitely times when I have felt like a parched field, or a deer by an empty wadi, panting after life-giving streams. I am waiting to be “transmuted” by love…by LOVE!
This evening the monsoons rolled into the valley with dramatic force, and the rains began their yearly job of replenishing the dry, desert landscape. The author of the Book of James tells his readers, “Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.” Patiently wait for the rain. Patiently wait for the Lord. Patiently wait for the well-spring of Spirit to return to the place of prayer, to encounter us in our “inner closet.” And in the meantime, while waiting patiently, live with gratitude. When all other prayer seems to fall short. The least I can do…that we can do…is say, “Thank you.”