At some point, every pray-er — no matter how devout — struggles to pray, sometimes for surprisingly pathetic reasons. One would think that shutting oneself up in a dark and quiet closet in order to listen to the Almighty would be a delightful gift to oneself, especially in a world that is spilling over with glaring and blaring distractions.
But it turns out that sometimes the dark and quiet closet is its own distraction. So much darkness. So much silence. So much closeness. The simplicity and sparseness can be quite overwhelming.
And then instead of praying, we end up thinking in spirals and worrying along rivulets and wandering through mists.
So we pinch our arms, reprimand our souls, nag our chattering minds, and get back to it. Diligently. Mercilessly. Stoically. Because, well, we should; we must; we ought; even though it’s so much work and requires such sternly disciplined singleness of mind. (And by “sternly disciplined singleness of mind” I mean “something that looks quite a bit like joyless self-martyrdom”.)
But – if you are very fortunate and very willing to listen and very emptied of self – something might break through the joyless self-martyrdom. You read a book that helps you understand prayer in a new way. You have an experience that peels back all the false layers of piety. You sense the Spirit gently whispering within the holy breath of life.
Or maybe even this: you receive a box of 8 small folded stars (that are beyond comprehension) and a note that says,
When I prayed for you I made these.
What manner of miraculous friendship is this, that someone not only prays for us but at the same time creates anew (from the old) something that reflects not just us but also the very One who made us?
In that moment – and everyone should have such a moment as this – prayer becomes something much sweeter and larger and more miraculous and divine and beautifully disciplined and creatively focused.
To the star-making pray-er: thank you for making prayer and creativity and friendship even sweeter and more brilliant than they already were.
To the rest of us pray-ers, including myself: what could be more unspeakably amazing than that we are invited to converse with the Almighty Creator (of the individually named and intentionally placed Stars), who is also Abba Father (of the undeserving and helpless flock known as humanity)?
Let us all find our own manner of star-making so that we will joyfully and often enter that sacred space to utter sacred words in the presence of the Sacred itself.
I once sat across from Lyn in a McDonalds weeping that I was a lousy person. Couldn’t pray. Struggled with silence. Zero attention span. She told me to pray while I create with my hands. Listen to scripture on audio while I bake for people I love. So simple. Such freedom. I like her.
Yes yes yes, to all of the things you said. Some people can focus beautifully in stillness. Some people can’t. That doesn’t mean we non-still multi-tasking unfocused folks should give up on the quiet stillness – it’s a good discipline for both our bodies and souls, and often times it is just the thing to soothe our busy hands and minds. But as you said, it does mean that we can let go of the whole “I’m a failure Christian and a lousy intercessor and a pathetic pray-er” thing and jump into it with all of God-given energy, believing that He is pleased not just with our prayerful communion but also with our unique selves. What a beautiful relief that is.