Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thanks to Sister Wendy On Prayer

I’ve never really had trouble praying. When I was growing up, my mother taught me to pray. And prayer was never confined in my mind to any specific time or place. It still isn’t now. Prior to my conversion, I had heard some Catholic friends speak about the difficulty of praying. I always thought, what is so difficult about it? Just do it.

I'm still not sure what kind of problems they were having with prayer. I always thought it was pretty simple to just ask for what you need. Or to give thanks for what you have been given. I’ll be honest with you and say that I’m still warming up to the Rosary. We pray the Rosary  as a family at least one night a week now. Usually on Tuesdays. It’s good because with five of us, we each lead a decade of the prayer. Everyone is a leader.

After my conversion, I was perusing the religious book section of our public library and I came across this title in the photograph above. Sister Wendy Beckett wrote a book on prayer? Neat! My wife and I love Sister Wendy's PBS specials on art. So I picked up this little tome and brought it home. I think it was very helpful. It is the first book that explained to me the idea that prayer can even be done silently. I don't mean praying silently, but listening silently.  Hard to do in a house full of kids, but it is possible after they are in bed.

It is a short and very readable book and very straightforward.  It has three sections and is only 144 pages in length.  Heck, the first 31 pages are an autobiographical introduction by the writer and producer of her PBS art documentaries. So it’s really only 113 pages.  It's good that it is short and simple because Sister Wendy prefers that you actually pray rather than just read about praying. I'm with her on this idea to. The K.I.S.S. method of prayer, you know, Keep It Simple, Silly!

Let me give you a brief taste from the first chapter,

The simplicity of prayer, its sheer, terrifying uncomplicatedness seems to be the last thing most of us either know, or want to know.  It is not difficult to intellectualize on prayer.  Like love, beauty, and motherhood, it quickly sets our eloquence aflow. It is not difficult, but it is perfectly futile. In fact, those glowing pages on prayer are worse than futile; they can be positively harmful.

Writing about prayer, reading about prayer, talking about prayer, thinking about prayer, longing for prayer and wrapping myself more and more in these great cloudy sublimities can make me feel so aware of the spiritual—anything rather than actually praying. What am I doing but erecting a screen behind which I can safely maintain my self-esteem and hide away from God?

Striking any chords here? Sister Wendy doesn't pull any punches, does she?

Ask yourself: what do I really want when I pray? Do you want to be possessed by God? Or to put the same question more honestly, do you want to want it? Then you have it. The one point Jesus stressed and repeated and brought up again is, “Whatever you ask the Father, He will grant it to you.” His insistence on faith and perseverance are surely other ways of saying the same thing: you must really want it, it must engross you.

You see what I mean?  Sister Wendy lays it all on the line right there in the first couple of paragraphs of chapter one! To finish out this line of reasoning she writes,

Wants that are passing, faint emotional desires that you do not press with burning conviction, these are things that you do not ask “in Jesus’ name;” how could you? But what you really want, “with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” that Jesus pledges himself to see that you are granted. He is not talking only, probably not even primarily, of prayer of petition, but of prayer. When you set yourself down to pray, what do you want? If you want God to take possession of you, than you are praying. That is all prayer is.

The astonishing thing about prayer is our inability to accept that if we have need of it, as we do, then because of God's goodness, it cannot be something that is difficult. Accept that God is good and that your relationship with Him is prayer, and you must conclude that prayer is an act of the utmost simplicity.

And that is why I say thank you to Sister Wendy.  There is much more practical advice in this charming, little book, and that is a good thing too.  Because Sister Wendy and I want you to read it quickly and then start praying, whenever you can and wherever you happen to be.