Over the past month I’ve joined with other women who are seeking wholeness this summer. Women who don’t want to feel that they are separated into fragments labelled ‘mother’, ‘wife’, ‘writer’, ‘artist’, ‘poet’, ‘cook’, ‘finder of socks that go missing’, ‘keeper of dreams’. This week we’re thinking about prayer, and I’ve realised that prayer is where I most fully integrate every part of my life.
Let me explain.
So often when we think of prayer we think of petition. Someone tells you that they are in a difficult situation and you say ‘I’ll pray’ and that means something like ‘I’ll get on the case. I’ll write to my MP too. I’ll raise the issue for you. Maybe the boss will listen if there are a few people saying the same thing’.
I do that. And I do talk to God about the difficult situation my friend is in, or I do think about it ; then I feel I’ve done my part .
And I ask friends to pray for me and my family, but I realise it’s only ever in the hard times, the worst of times, the moments of real crisis and decision. ‘Hey friends, our marriage is on the rocks – could do with your prayers. Hey friends – our child isn’t doing so well – could do with your prayers. Hey friends – our relative is really ill – could do with your prayers.’
What is it I’m expecting these people to do? Why do I ask?
If I am being utterly honest, it’s a way of communicating big things in my life to people without it feeling like I’m selfishly asking them to care about me and my problems. Asking them to pray puts it on a less selfish, ‘this isn’t about what I want’ basis.
When put in those terms the whole exercise is questionable. Don’t I believe my friends love me enough to want to know how life is going for me? Do I actually think there is any purpose in asking them to pray?
I’m actually not sure what I believe about petitioning prayers, apart from that it does say repeatedly in the bible that it’s something we should do, ‘ask and it will be given to you; in everything, with prayer and petition, present your requests before God’.
But what I am learning as I mature in age and in my faith is that there are many mysteries of faith which make no sense to me, and it’s ok to not know the answers or even understand the questions.
So when it comes to prayer I have left my worries about petitions and quite how God answers these requests of ours, or not, and I think of prayer as a state of being.
Prayer is when my spirit is open to the possibility of communication with the Divine; when I am living and breathing and doing the dishes and cooking meals, walking the dog or chatting with children, working or writing or enjoying being with friends, with an openness to see or notice or feel things that are bigger and greater than the immediate and surface.
Some days I am missing that completely, but there are usually moments if not increasingly extended periods in every day when I am living with that openness. I think it’s developed because when my marriage was seemingly ending, and I felt utterly alone, the only thing that got me through each day was an almost literal throwing myself on God’s mercy. Each morning I’d say – ‘You put me here. You seem to want me to stay married. You want me to let go of the relationship with the other. You are leaving me desolate. So God, you need to show up. Show me that you are real. Show me that you are here today. Show me that you love me – I need to know that I am loved.’
Living in the immediate and surface didn’t give me anything that I needed and so if I was going to stay alive (I had been suicidal) I needed to know that there was more.
God did show up. Every time. Often tangibly, as I’ve written about before on this blog. Some days it was as though I was being followed around by an ardent lover who kept whispering in my ear ‘I love you’, ‘I desire you’ to the extent that I felt myself blushing and being in that joyful state when the very person you most want feels the same way about you. I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. It had never before been my experience of God, and I’d never related to any of the imagery of God as our lover with the intimacy that implies, but all of a sudden that’s who was with me.
Earlier this year I came across a quote from a priest which described what I now understand as prayer:
“The purpose of living is not to learn to make prayer,
but to become prayer; to live in and for God
according to the divine call, wholly surrendered to
the Spirit’s activity in the soul for the glory of God.”
Fr Gilbert Shaw
I shared it on instagram, because instagram is really where I pray publicly now. My friend Jennifer Upton encouraged me to develop my desire to see beyond the surface through photography, and I find that taking photos throughout my day deepens my vision. I want to say that social media is a terrible time waster that eats up our lives, but actually I find it an incredibly creative space in which I am living and learning to become prayer. Every time I write, every time I take a photo on my phone, I find that in creativity I surrender to the Spirit’s activity.
Prayer as becoming. It makes it much easier to understand the bible verses that talk about praying without ceasing and praying at all times.
Because becoming is what we are doing, without ceasing and at all times.
If you want to read more about #wholemama and hear Esther Emery and Sarah Bessey ( author of Jesus Feminist) talk about prayer here’s a link. So worth your time to click on it ! I promise 🙂