Posts Tagged ‘faith practices’

Being Present in Prayer

November 2, 2015

Anytime I’m in a discussion about prayer, it seems like I hear the same thing: “I can’t concentrate, my mind wanders, I can’t focus long enough, and so I just don’t feel a connection to God.”  It’s a common refrain, and many times I have offered different methods or patterns of praying, because having a deep prayer life can enrich our faith lives. People seem to like the idea that they can “learn” to pray; even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray after they had seen how his prayers connected him with God. And it’s true, you can learn methods of prayer or different types of prayer. But if we want a deeper connection with God, how do we make that happen? Or can we?

Last week I read an article by On Being blogger Susan Salzburg called “Simple But Not Easy: The Right Effort of Beginning Again.” Ms. Salzburg is a Buddhist and teaches meditation; she has practiced meditation for years and studied under a Burmese master named Sayadaw U Pandita. She told a story in the blog I read about going to study with this master and having the assignment of meeting with him 6 days a week to discuss her meditation experiences with him. She diligently meditated each day, making notes and trying to remember how her sessions had gone. But every time she met with U Pandita and described her experiences with him, he always replied, “It is like that in the beginning.”

This article reminded me of how many Christians feel about prayer– as if we should just be able to sit down and pray, and connect with God with little effort. Or that it’s ok to be a beginner– in the beginning; but like our productivity-oriented society, we want to have something to show for our efforts; we want to feel as if something has been accomplished or achieved. In a similar way we talk about “growing” in discipleship or our spirituality– as if discipleship or spirituality is something that can be measured or weighed. And if we’re unable to focus on who or what we’re supposed to be praying about we feel we’ve failed; if we don’t see a measurable answer to our prayer or solution to our problem, we think God isn’t there, doesn’t hear us, or doesn’t care.

But maybe, like Ms. Salzburg, we can learn that it isn’t progress that we need, it’s presence. Being present in the moment whether we’re praying or working or exercising. Listening and watching and waiting for God in our everyday lives so that when we do sit down to pray we’re already clued into the rhythms of God’s world instead of letting the human world distract us. As Ms. Salzburg said, If we make a commitment to living in the present moment, we are always “at the beginning” of whatever it is we are doing, constantly presented with thoughts, judgments, observations, and/or sensations that interrupt up us amidst our daily activities. The challenge is in the choice to accept these things and simply “begin” again, returning to the present moment, or to grip tightly to some idea of what we should be doing and flood ourselves with judgment in the process. In the same way, when in our prayers we try to focus on God and we lose concentration, we can bring ourselves back to the present and begin again. We begin to worry less about “accomplishing” something with our prayers and more focused on being in the presence of God. Which to me, is the very essence of what it means to pray.

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