By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 5, 2013
Prayer can be so mysterious. After reading Flannery O’Connor’s recently published prayer journal, I was mystified by the fact that she plaintively wrote, “Would someone please teach me how to pray?”
Keep in mind she wrote dozens of letters to friends instructing them in the details of the Catholic faith, and did so eloquently. She also generously helped the sisters at Our Lady of Perpetual Help home in Atlanta write a book about a little girl named Mary Ann, one of their patients. O’Connor had lupus and was too ill to do the ordinary works of mercy such as visiting the sick, but she did her part through her writing.
I consider her a saintly woman—although she would protest that description—and yet even she struggled with prayer. But then again, don’t we all? The apostles, who were with Jesus day in and day out, asked him, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” And it was then that Jesus taught them that very simple prayer in which we ask for our daily bread and surrender to God’s will.
St. Paul admonishes us to “pray constantly”—but how can we interweave prayer into our busy day, especially during Advent when there is so much to be done? How can we pray while baking cookies, wrapping presents, cooking meals and stringing lights in the yard?
We can turn our hearts to God whenever possible. All we need to do is say, “This is all for you, Lord,” whether we are making soup, driving to work, addressing cards or chasing a toddler around the house.
We can also take to heart the advice of Brother Lawrence, who wrote about prayer in “The Practice of the Presence of God.” He absolutely hated working in the monastery kitchen, but one day, much to his dismay, he was given a permanent assignment there.
While chopping, slicing and dicing, Brother Lawrence managed to turn drudgery into prayer by saying, “Here I am, Lord. Make me according to Thy Heart.”
In the chaotic and steamy monastery kitchen with one person asking for one thing and another for something else, he felt as close to God as if he were on his knees in the adoration chapel before the Eucharist.
It’s all about mindfulness. If we see a fancy bird at the feeder we can say, “Thank you, Lord.” If we are impatient with crowds at the mall, we can pray for the people around us.
We can also say when faced with difficulties—whether it’s a sulky teenager or a grouchy boss—the poignant words, “Lord, have mercy on me!”
Prayer means lifting our hearts to God, which we can do by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the rosary. We are fortunate to have traditional Catholic prayers for every occasion, so we needn’t constantly reinvent the wheel.
Still, when people like O’Connor admit their struggles with prayer, I understand exactly what they mean. We often believe there is some deep mystery to it that we have yet to unravel.
And we may suspect everyone else knows how to do it better than we do.
However, it helps to remember that God gave us a sense of humor, and since we’re created in his image, we can assume he has one too.
So I have to believe he enjoys the simplest words from us such as the sincere prayer of surrender that a priest shared with me, after learning it from an elderly lady in his parish: “Everything and anything, God!”
Really, doesn’t that say it all?
Artwork is by Jef Murray. Readers may contact the Murrays at email@example.com.