The renowned Jesuit priest Father James Martin, S.J. once said, “[T]here’s no best, or only way to pray. Whatever works best for you-imagining yourself with God, quietly meditating on a favorite Scripture passage, or reciting an old prayer that comforts you-is what’s best for you.”
Discovering the “best way” to pray tends to involve finding the right environment for prayer. Inside or outdoors? Alone or with others? Speaking out loud or keeping silent?
The possibilities are infinite. I entered this year’s Lent with the assumption that silent meditation in a quiet room is the best scenario for me to find some degree of inner peace. Perhaps it is better to say this is the type of prayer to which I feel called at this point in my life.
Though we are still only a few days into Lent, I have already found myself forced to adapt these expectations to meet sometimes unforeseen circumstances.
Over the weekend, I made a quick trip to Chicago to visit a friend with whom I volunteered in Peru. I needed to leave my home at 7:30 in the morning to catch a train. Being a Saturday and all, my desire for another cycle of REM trumped my drive to rise early and put in my 10-15 minutes of prayer before departing.
I knew I would be with my friend the remainder of the day and would not have another opportunity to break away for prayer (I’m not yet ready to cajole others into my Lenten practice).
What to do?
The best option, it seemed, was to pray on the Metra to Chicago.
Sitting on a noisy train with a number of strangers around me was of course far from preferable. But I put on headphones and a Ravi Shankar album and, strangely enough, had a surprisingly enjoyable respite before fully taking on my day.
Though I am not entirely sure why, I felt a funny sense of satisfaction about all this. I think my pleasure may have come from realizing it was possible to pray in such a setting.
It also gave me pause about some of my presumptions about prayer. Maybe being around other people in a less-than-isolated setting is, in fact, the perfect place for me to pray. Perhaps varying my surroundings is the key. The experience reminded me of a George Harrison quote:
“You can go to the Himalayas and miss it completely, and you can be stuck in the middle of New York and be very spiritual.”
We never know where or when inspiration might strike.