What is a prayer

Prayer is relationship with God. This bond with God is the ability to pay attention to life in all its wonder, savor the experiences and see God at the center of it all. The following is a brief reflection on how people experience God.

Prayer: Communication of Love in Joy, Wonder and Silence

The initial movement in prayer is from God who invites people to look at God. What makes us notice God are those foundational experiences of joy that focus our attention on our reason for being. As spiritual director William Barry writes,

We know from revelation that we exist because God desires us into being and keeps us in being. God is, it would seem, madly in love with us, is always attracted to us. The problem is that most of us do not really believe it … We need experiences of God as attractive…We need to recall and savor these experiences of “joy” so that we will want to develop an intimate relationship of friendship and love with God. (W. Barry, “Founding a Relationship with God” America, Dec. 14,1991 p.459)

Prayer is an unfolding process of heightened consciousness discovered through joy, wonder and silence. When we are disposed to look more deeply at such experiences, God’s revelation breaks through our own desires. John Bamberger explains it this way:

To perceive something of this radiance that is at the heart of human life… is to know that there is an infinite, transcendent, living God who is the secret answer to the mystery of the human heart. Look intently, in quiet, with the desire to see what is most desirable in what you desire, and you will find it quite natural to believe that God IS. (J. Bamberger, “How Can I Find God?” J. Martin, ed. America, Sept. 30, 1995, p.14)

Through the quiet of prayer one can notice the movements of the heart in response to questions about human existence. This leads to faith in the source of all creation.

Silence is about communication. In the relationship between Jesus and the Father, this silence is the language of love. Entering into a discipline of quiet allows the Word to be sifted through incessant clamoring of thoughts. There is a struggle to be still because of the noise of this world, which easily grabs our attention. If we dare to pay attention in these moments of silence, we can discover the freedom of love to let God’s Word be revealed through us.

Prayer and Beauty

Prayer offers a time away from a hectic schedule that allows one to notice in deeper ways how God intended life to flourish. Such expressions of joy are celebrated in the experience of beauty. In his autobiography, Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner describes one such experience that surprised him:

It was the upward-reaching and fathomlessly hungering, heart-breaking love for the beauty of the world at its most beautiful, and, beyond that, for that beauty east of the sun and west of the moon which is past the reach of all but our most desperate desiring and is finally the beauty of Beauty itself, of Being itself and what lies at the heart of Being. (B. Barry, ibid. p.460)

Years after the original experience of beauty, Buechner was able to recall and savor it again. These experiences may be brief moments of inspiration and awe when looking at a sunset or feeling like I am actually seeing a flower for the first time. In these situations such sensations arouse heartfelt curiosity at what it means to be brought into existence. This wonder of beauty is the recognition that one is connected to all of creation, yet incapable of completely understanding how it came to be.

These awe-filled moments do not appear on command. We can only prepare ourselves to receive and relish them as gifts. We open ourselves to revelation through our desires and wait. Prayer is the ability to wait and listen. This desire to pay attention to God is the discipline that disposes us to be in God’s presence through our ordinary, daily activities and encounters. An artist, Frederick Franck, while watching a bee on a purple flower, describes this awareness of Being in the following way:

And at that moment it happened: I disappeared, so did bee, grass, sun, blue sky, the tune, the white clouds. All had disappeared, had become no-thing, or One. I don’t know how long it lasted, this bliss, this pure awareness, but suddenly it was over… I knew then, as I know now, that I had come as close as I would ever get to the Unnameable… It may be forgotten most of the time, but the artist-within never quite forgets it. In whatever he writes, paints, draws, dances survives the hope of reliving it, just once more. (F.Franck, “The Artist-within and the Contemplative Eye,” Image, Vol.10 Summer 1995, p.118)

To be so attentive to the stillness of creation as nature unfolds is prayer. There is an ‘artist’ within all of us that is the divine creator. When we pray we co-create with God to raise awareness of wonder in the world. When we draw closer to God that reflection of love is what others will perceive in us. We become God’s instruments that generate images of compassion and beauty in a wounded world. If you want to see how some artists participate in co-creation then look at “Art as Prayer.” Their stories may inspire you to explore creativity and discover how art and prayer can help others.