On a recent Saturday I went to the grocery store and took a number at the deli. I was in a hurry. They were on number 49. My number was 62.
It was quite a crowd. Some people came in pairs, browsing in front of the glass displays as they waited for their turn, making it hard for me to scan the deli items. Each person seemed to have involved orders. I began to stress.
But I remembered I hadn’t said some of my daily morning prayers, and seeing that I would be waiting awhile, I stepped back a little away from the crowd and began to pray silently as I held my number 62.
As I watched the red-number-light slowly creep up to 50, then 51, I felt a deep sense of peace as I ‘caught up’ on some prayers. Not only that, I found myself hoping that the orders would continue to be slow so that I could continue to pray.
Times when life makes us stop in our tracks may actually be moments that are gifts from above. This includes times when traffic is slow, when we wait forever for an office visit, or we’re awaiting company that is VERY late. (I once had out-of-town company arrive a day late without so much as a phone call. I’d made a big dinner in preparation for them. These much loved free spirits decided, as they were driving, to stop and stay at a nice hotel with a pool. They sauntered into my home happily the next day for dinner. I must say, it took all I had not to weep. I’d thought they’d been in an accident or that something major had happened. I think that event must have made me grow a foot in patience!
These are revealing moments, a sort of mirror that shows us the worst we can sometimes be -a reminder that we still have a long way to go. Stopped in our tracks we can become negative and anxious, or we can see the moment as a stop sign from heaven reminding us to slow down, smell the flowers, live in the moment, and remember that God is “not far from any of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:27)
Some say formal prayer hinders ‘true’ prayer, that when we say formal prayers, that Catholics are just rattling off words, and that ‘spontaneous’ prayer is higher because it is from the heart.
Take the Rosary. Catholics are often accused of rattling off numerous repeated prayers without really praying or thinking. But Catholics consider the Rosary a meditative prayer based on the Gospel scenes of the New Testament.
While we pray the Rosary, we ponder the events of the life of Jesus, from the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel is sent to tell Mary that she will conceive a son Jesus, to the many events that Jesus experienced during His short life on earth and then finish the Mysteries with events after His death, like Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost. As we ponder these mysteries, we become acquainted, so to speak, with Christ and the people who were with him. We strive to immerse ourselves deeply into the gospel scenes, learning Jesus’ responses, his ways, and his love. When is the last time, as you awaited the ‘spontaneous’ prayers of the heart, that you pondered Jesus in the Gospel scenes? Are you getting to know the Jesus who walked this earth 2000 years ago?
(While the fourth and fifth Glorious mystery of the Rosary, Mary’s Assumption and the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven is not in the bible, it is Church tradition. It is written in the Bible in 2 Thess. 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” Our church teaching is not based solely on the written word of the bible.)
The saying, “What Would Jesus Do?” is something we are clueless about if we don’t ponder Jesus and the things he says and does in the Gospels; if we don’t get to ‘know’ him!
So often, when I’m not feeling very prayerful, formal prayers act like a springboard that leads to spontaneous prayers from the heart. Informal prayer or “spontaneous” prayer is prayer where you just speak the words in your heart, making conversation with God in those moments when you ‘feel’ like praying. Many times I start with a formal prayer, and it quickly leads to spontaneous prayers of giving thanks, contrition, petition, and praise. Like a furrow prepared in the fields where farmers lay their seeds, formal prayers lay the groundwork for living a prayerful life.
There are times when we have to be focused on our work, our studies, our lives, our conversations, and we don’t think we have time for spontaneous or formal prayer. At times when we’re busy, distracted, working diligently or engaged in conversation, if we only rely on spontaneous prayer, without scheduled times to pray, we will soon drift into prayer never-never-land.
In 1Thessalonians 5:17, St. Paul urges us to ‘pray without ceasing.‘
When we can’t say formal or spontaneous prayers all day long, how do we carry a spirit of prayer, how do we live in the continual presence of God? Having short little prayers, memorized and handy, is one helpful way to help us pray always. It is a way to insert prayers throughout the day, when our heart and mind must be engaged elsewhere. When we are between tasks, a quick little, “Jesus, help me to love you,” or “All Glory be to God,” or “Father I’m here, stay with me!” and many other short prayers that move your heart will help you to pray always. You can go through scriptures and pick out meaningful phrases that move your heart. For example, in Mark 9:24 a father wanting faith to heal his sick child exclaims, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” Or “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:9 Writing down some of favorite scriptures or short prayers will help you become a prayerful person.
Have your everyday cues. The phone, the computer, the doorbell, and car rides can all be sources for short little prayers, or more. When you see someone walking along a dangerous road, do you say a prayer for them? A favorite cue of mine, one that I don’t have trouble remembering, is when I’m beginning a task I don’t like. That is a good time to begin praying for the strength and perseverance needed to go forward with the task, and try to remember to offer it as a gift of love to God.
If we truly are prayerful persons, if we have a deep rooted understanding that God is with us, if our decisions and being revolve around the belief that there is a God who cares, a God who is our friend, a God who is watching out for us, in spite of hardships, tragedy and loss, then we put our money where our mouth is by treating him that way. If we love someone, we schedule time to be with them. Do you really believe that God is with you? When is the last time you threw a smile at God? Or a nod of acknowledgement to Him that no one but God to whom it was directed at would notice? When is the last time you saw a beautiful sunset and directed a prayer of thanks to God for his artistry and kindness?
King David said that he prayed throughout the watches of the night. Psalm 63:6 ”And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.…”
Do you also look forward, like King David, to the night time, when there is more peace, less distractions, and you can have heart-to-heart talks with Jesus? Sharing your day, your worries, and your hopes?
Perhaps you are a sinner and you think you aren’t good enough to pray always. Do you think that praying always is only for the holy? Well, King David himself made many mistakes. He even had a man killed so that he could marry the murdered man’s beautiful wife. But King David says in Psalm 119: 147-149 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words. My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word. Hear my voice according to Your loving kindness; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your ordinances.…” King David wasn’t a perfect man, in fact he committed some whoppers for sins and killed a lot of men in war. But because of his love of God and his constant prayer, he found not only forgiveness but great favor with God.
Do you long to be united to God, his presence, and his love? Don’t only believe in God’s presence, but have your actions match this belief? Prove it. Pray always. Even in the deli line.