Thursday, April 16, 2009

Always be Joyful. And never stop praying.

I was reading a business article today about the need to remain focused in this struggling economy, and my thoughts (obviously I didn't remain focused on the article!) turned to prayer.

I'm a very visual person and have discovered that one of the most effective prayer techniques for me is with iconography. I have dozens of icons throughout my house and draw much comfort from simply being in their presence. My eyes often land on St. John the Baptist while I'm watching TV and I don't find that odd at all. I don't believe that prayer means stopping what you're doing (say for an hour on Sunday mornings) to pray. I believe that prayer can be - should be - with you always. I don't always manage it but I believe it.

Brother Lawrence, in his book The Practice of the Presence of God, wrote of being in prayer - in communion with God - no matter what he was doing. Washing dishes, gardening, walking, sweeping .... no matter what, Brother Lawrence was in prayer. The Dalai Lama has said that he is in prayful meditation when he listens to the daily radio news. Proof that our minds are phenomenal machines.

In the very early days of discovering my own spirituality the first Biblical passage that captured my attention was St. Paul's words to the church in Thessonalica. 'Always be joyful, and never stop praying' were his instructions to the Thessalonians. I printed out that passage, added some flower clipart and posted it over my desk at work. Where it stayed for years. I have it still. Funny though, until today, I always thought of it as one single command but during the writing of this piece I see it as two separate and unique instructions that feed each other. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. And to actually BE joyful at all times one must never stop praying. Separate but combined. A cool realization.

When I first began to use icons in my prayer life I spent most of my evenings alone in my church. Even though it was an Anglican church there were icons on every wall. I used to take a stool, pile up a stack of books and place a candle at just the right height in front of the Saint I felt most drawn to at the time. Thomas was often a favorite for me back then as I recall. Another icon, one of Christ Pantocrator which had been written specifically for the church, was in the Lady Altar where I spent many hours in quiet contemplation; on the floor, in a pew, often (thankfully no one ever discovered this) actually curled up right on the altar so that I could be as close as possible. I would begin to pray - in ways that I thought were "right" - but often found my mind wandering. Initially, when that happened, I'd give my head a shake and try to 'get back to prayer'. I added in a somewhat altered 'Jesus prayer' in an effort to keep focused but still found that my thoughts wandered off. While one part of my mind was reciting 'Lord Jesus Christ, most Holy Son of Mary, have mercy on me a sinner' (my own version of the prayer) another part was struggling with concerns or issues. I kept thinking I was doing something wrong, that I wasn't praying 'correctly'. [Talk about needing to give your head a shake!] But then I read somewhere - I think it might have been in a book about St. Therese de Lisieux - that I really needed to pay attention to those wandering thoughts because they are God's way of bringing forward things that matter. And, wandering thoughts about what to make for dinner aside, I think there is a great deal of truth to that; I've remembered it to this day and I allow myself to follow the wandering thoughts.

So while there might be a lot to be said about remaining focused there's more to be said about the need to listen to that still, small voice inside you to discover what really matters.

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