When we think about prayer, usually it’s about an attitude of prayer–bowed head, folded hands, sometimes open hands, sometimes kneeling–and words either said by a worship leader or by ourselves in private prayer. There may be times we feel we don’t know how to pray because we can’t come up with the words or don’t feel confident we know the “correct” words.
What is prayer? Prayer is that experience of opening ourselves to God, centering ourselves in the presence of God with honesty and hope. So prayer can happen in a host of ways and to limit ourselves to a set of words said in a certain attitude is to limit how we reach out to God and how God speaks to us. The ways of prayer are limitless. Prayer happens any time our thoughts or feelings or questions or being are focused on that connection between us and God.
On a recent trip, I came across this painting in an art gallery. It captivated me. I’m sure that people walking by or pausing to look, had no idea that I was engaged in prayer as I stood there. This is a painting of Mary Magdalene, painted in about 1535-40 by an Italian artist with the splendid name of Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo. (The painting is held in the National Gallery, London, UK.) In John’s gospel, we’re told that Mary was the very first person to see the risen Christ. Here she leans forward, carrying something wrapped in her cloak. The simplicity of the piece and the completely modern look of this Mary Magdalene caught my imagination. The expression on her face drew me in–what had she just seen? what did it mean to her? She looked to me as though she had some wonderful secret whose meaning she had yet to fathom. I found myself beside her, walking in the garden, seeing what she saw, remembering seeing Christ face to face, pondering what that would mean for me and for others, had my life truly embraced this experience, how can it be shared. This work of art drew me into the presence of God, into the presence of Jesus on that first Easter morning. It was a time of prayer.
Music, art or dance can draw you into a place and experience of prayer. You might sing your prayer through familiar songs and hymns whose words express what you want to say. You might light candles in which each flame stands for something or someone you want to lift in prayer. Sitting by the lake, watching the sunset, seeing children laughing and running in the grass–any of these things and so many others may take you to place of prayer, a moment where your heart, soul, and mind are opened to the presence of God.
In prayer we grow our relationship with God. As in any relationship, regular deep, honest conversation and sharing of the heart, strengthens and deepens and solidifies the connection and enhances trust. Prayer is an important part of our life as disciples of Jesus. And spoken words are only one of a rich array of possibilities. You can pray anywhere, any time. Sometimes just a deep breath in and out can be a heartfelt prayer.