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Ignoring God's Presence

There is only one path by which we can reach God and that is by prayer. If anyone shows you another, he is deceiving you.
—Theresa of Avila

Many Christians are only 80 percent as spiritual as most Muslims. The math is easy. Our Muslim neighbours pray at least five times a day, while many of us give thanks before our three meals and then pray once more at bedtime.

Of course, many Muslims pray more often than the required five times, and many Christians pray more often than four times a day as well. Yet many of us still pray about as infrequently as we think we have to in order to fulfill that particular religious duty. Then we're on to the next thing in our busy Christian lives.

I work in a Christian institution that teaches a lot about prayer. We also make sure that prayer is a part of all of our gatherings, whether worship services, business meetings, or convocations.

Recently, however, the faculty and staff here have been convicted of the fact that our practice doesn't match our preaching as well as it ought. We don't pray as much as we should—busy as we are in trying to do God's business! And what's true of our formal meetings is also true of our less formal times. Many of us forget to pray during even searching, demanding conversations in which one would think that at least then we would recognize our need of prayer.

Many of us Christians … act as if we were all right without God.

Many of us Christians, it seems, act as if we were all right without God. We act as if we were deists: grateful to God for designing the world and then stepping aside to let us proceed with our duties. The hours go by, we labour in what we suppose is our service to God, and we don't pray.

We need to consider the example of our Muslim neighbours and, indeed, of Theresa and her fellow Carmelite nuns. They believed that a life of prayer is sustained best within a discipline of regular, formal prayers—both individual and corporate.

Some of us might be tempted to extol Brother Lawrence's "practising the presence of God" amid the pots and pans of daily duty. "See?" we might say. "We can pray anywhere, any time. We don't need rituals. We don't need to make a big, formal deal about it."

But Brother Lawrence was, after all, Brother Lawrence. His continual enjoyment of God was framed and enlivened by his regular participation in the daily worship services of his monastery.

So what can we do, who live outside the protective walls and helpful routines of a monastery?

Some of us will find it useful to set our computer alarms or wristwatches to particular intervals and then pray every time the chime goes off. Others of us will pray during our commute.

We will find it helpful to start every conversation with prayer—at least within ourselves, and also, in the appropriate context, aloud. Perhaps we will go beyond beginning Christian meetings with prayer—not just worship services, but committee meetings, class periods, and so on—but also be sure to end them with prayer. We might even institute prayer midway also to keep our work in proper perspective.

And we will meet to pray. Perhaps in our church buildings. Perhaps in homes. Perhaps with a friend or two in an office or coffee shop before work.

We live not under law, but under grace. That means we are free …

We live not under law, but under grace. That means we are free to experiment, to innovate, to recover forgotten traditions, and thus to enjoy God in ways appropriate to our distinctive personalities, vocations, and needs. We don't all have to follow the same rules and rituals.

"Living under grace" does not mean, however, that we are free from the need to pray somehow and often. For freedom from prayer, as Theresa reminds us, means "freedom" from God.

Faith Today, May/June 2002,




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