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“A Sermon On the Subject of Prayer”
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
“We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
With those words, this morning’s epistle lesson reminds us how little we know about how to pray. (A particularly sobering thought, given the fact that, a few moments ago, when Lesley asked who would help Cy and Natalie teach Stetson to pray, we all said we would, despite the fact that, according to Paul, we don’t really know how to ourselves!)
When it comes to prayer, all we can do is tell God the truth; the truth about what we want and need, what we are thankful for and worried about, what we regret and what we hope, what we love and what we hate, our greatest dreams and deepest fears, and, then, trust the Holy Spirit to finish saying what we could not capture with our praying, because, as Paul said in this morning’s epistle lesson, “We do not know how to pray, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
But, while it is true that we don’t know how to pray, it is also true that we don’t know how not to pray.
We can’t not pray. Prayer is our life. Prayer is how we hope while we’re waiting, and how we wait while we’re hoping. Prayer is not another religious obligation to add to our already over burdened lives; prayer is our life. It’s how we hope while we’re waiting and how we wait while we’re hoping. Prayer is how we hold one another in our hearts across distance and time; our prayers becoming God’s arms; holding one another up, holding one another near.
I was reading, this week, one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, when I came across a sentence in which Reverend Taylor said, “There are probably people of such faith that they pray without ever thinking about results, but I do not know any of them.” When I read that, I thought to myself, “I do. I know people who have traveled the path to depth with God so far for so long that they pray all the time, without ever thinking of results. They don’t think of prayer as succeeding or failing, working or not working, answered or unanswered, because they no longer think of prayer as a transaction in which God gives us what we want if we give God what God wants. Rather, they just pray all the time because they can’t not. It’s their life; it’s been what they do for so long that it has become who they are.”
And then, what might happen next is truly amazing. After we live long enough with prayer being our life, our life may, eventually, become a prayer.
If we make prayer our life for long enough, someday our life may become a prayer. Our every response to every person, situation, success, failure, sorrow, challenge, frustration, betrayal, insult, victory, defeat, change and struggle might become so mindful and thoughtful, clear and true that it can only be described as a prayer; our whole, entire life, a prayer.
What started out as our decision to make prayer our life, may, eventually, lead to our life becoming a prayer.