Prayer is dynamic and fluid. Like everything, it is always changing, so much so that the words I say today might feel entirely different tomorrow. Though forming habits, common practices and routines can be helpful in developing and deepening one’s prayer life, I have also found it important to introduce new elements into my daily meditations.
My spiritual director recently suggested praying with scripture. I have tried this in the past on a limited basis and without strong feelings as to its success or lack thereof. I decided to give it another go on Friday.
Adding to the “newness” of the experience was the location. Having gotten out of work early, I swung by a small, university chapel instead of my usual prayer spot in my bedroom. I read the daily mass readings, paying attention to any phrases that jumped out at me. “I am the Lord your God; hear my voice” was the Psalm refrain and a clear candidate, as was “[L]ove your neighbor as yourself.” The latter especially called my attention. Several hours before seeing it was that day’s Gospel reading, I had been pondering this commandment.
As I prayed and repeated Christ’s words to myself, I began to feel slightly stressful. Love my neighbor as myself … how do I do that? I must be kind to people and do my best to treat everyone I encounter with respect. But is there a larger responsibility to which this charge is calling me? How does God specifically want me to love my neighbor?
Losing myself more and more to self-centeredness, I eventually found myself back at the Psalm: “I am the Lord your God; hear my voice.” At the time, I was mistakenly remembering the verse as “heed my voice.”
What I ended up hearing and heeding was a very simple call to presence. I realized there was no need to answer larger questions of how to live out my faith life or love my neighbor as part of some grander vocation. If I truly believed in the God I professed to, then that was where I needed to turn to explore those questions anyway. If there was some very definitive action through which I was being called to love my neighbor, I needed to trust God would make it known to me in due time.
My spiritual director tells me, “A change of place means a change of pace.” Apart from shaking up my meditation in a pleasant way, this different place, pace and style also reminded me that prayer is not really about problem solving, or at least not in the way I tend to do it. Though I can bring questions or dilemmas to the table, I need to protect my sanity by preventing myself from using the time to wrack my brain for solutions. I have learned it is best to leave these concerns at God’s feet, so to speak, and enter the space with little more of an agenda than enjoying and resting in God’s presence.