One aspect of the Sharing Table Project that I found especially enriching was the 24-hour prayer vigil. Spending an hour in the chapel with nothing to do but pray was a time of peace for me.
I thought about Psalm 131: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high: I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast.”
Like many faithful Christian folks, I confess that I am not always vigilant about a regular specific, daily time of prayer. But over the course of my life I have come to recognize moments during the day when prayer is called out of my heart.
Louis Evely has written that “Prayer is not so much asking things of God, but receiving what God wants to give you…Not so much offering yourself to God as welcoming God offering God’s self to you.”
In other words, our prayers originate in God, and are an instrument with which God shapes us into God’s Image. Mother Theresa captured this concept when she said “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is large enough to contain God’s gift of Himself.”
So, looked at this way, prayer is in its essence, coming into the presence of God. By becoming more aware of God’s presence - - by turning our attention to God - - we bring our minds and our hearts all of ourselves, into the presence of God. It is allowing God to come as close to us as we are to ourselves.
In the Old Testament coming into the presence of God was a terrifying experience, something much to be avoided by ordinary people. The Presence of God was hidden away in the Temple behind a curtain and only the High Priest dared approach.
But the work and sacrifice of Jesus cleared the way for all of us to approach God without fear. One of the cataclysmic events described in the Gospels on the moment Christ died was that the curtain in the Temple was “torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mt 27.51). Because of Christ’s obedience we know that God wants us to know and be known by our Creator.
There is of course another kind of prayer; an urgent prayer that comes in a moment of desperate need in our own lives or in the lives of someone we love. Prayer for healing, for release, for forgiveness, for courage, for safety, for protection, for understanding. A prayer in which we call out to God in desperation as the Psalmist did “How long O Lord will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13). Or like the prayer of Jesus “Father Please let this cup pass from me!”
Such heartfelt prayers are heard by God and, in some mysterious way, those prayers make a way for God’s Spirit to enter the world, to enter into a situation. I don’t know how. Nobody does. But it happens.
I pray for all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, a summer full of joy and peace and growing trust in God’s love for you.
Pastor Nancy Becker