by the Reverend Mary Mackin
When I was a child, my family gathered together each morning around the table for breakfast. But before we ate, my mother always read a passage of scripture and prayed. I can’t say I didn’t fidget during that five minutes, but nonetheless we all listened and prayed as well. My mother called this time our “devotions,” and we repeated this activity in the evening before going to bed, with a longer piece of scripture and more prayers. Though I was impatient at times during our devotions, the practice of taking some time out in the morning and evening to be with God, to read scripture and pray, became ingrained in me, and it is a habit I still continue.
While my personal prayer time does not and cannot take the place of gathering with the Body of Christ on Sunday morning in worship, it offers me an opportunity to clear my mind, to bring to God whatever is troubling me, to rest in God and to listen for God’s voice.
The monk Thomas Keating says personal prayer is like having “a date with God.” A date is a gift of time that we spend with someone we love. During that time, we talk, we laugh, we listen, we share our experiences and we learn to trust the other. We speak spontaneously and informally, as friends. It may seem silly to tell God what God already knows, but we know that in a relationship revealing what’s in our hearts is a way of giving ourselves to the other. We only tell our deepest thoughts to those we love, and thus talking to God builds intimacy with God. And when we are willing to lay bare the troubles of our hearts to God, those troubles can be healed and blessed.
Personal prayer is not something we do on our own; God initiates our prayers. God calls us to prayer. Prayer starts with the Holy Spirit prompting what Julia Gatta calls that “holy restlessness” within us that leads us to contact God in prayer. God is always there yearning for us to reach out.
Sometimes, however, we find that we don’t know how to pray or that we cannot reach out to God; we find no prayers in us. And then we take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit is praying for us, interceding for us, creating prayers in us that may be no more than groans. As Paul says in Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
Time spent each day with God quiets the mind, opens the heart, and hallows the day.