After this he said nothing for a while, and I laid myself on the floor of his garret, and stared up and around at the great blue beautifulness. I had forgotten him almost, when at last he said, ‘Ain’t you done yet?’ ‘Done what?’ I asked. ‘Done saying your prayers,’ says he. ‘I wasn’t saying my prayers,’ I answered. ‘Oh, yes, you were,’ said he, ‘though you didn’t know it! And now I must show you something else.’
— George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind
The Apostle Paul enjoins his readers to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). And perhaps the 19th century Presbyterian minister-turned-fantasy author George MacDonald was on to something in this passage from his masterpiece, At the Back of the North Wind. There’s more to prayer than reciting prayers — or talking to God, out loud or silently. And perhaps little Nanny, who in the passage quoted above gets lost in staring “up and around at the great blue beautifulness” in a dream she had, actually has something to teach us about prayer.
Sixteen centuries ago, John Cassian wrote “Prayer is not perfect when the monk is conscious of himself and of the fact that he is actually praying.” In other words, there’s a relationship between self-forgetfulness (which is a characteristic of humility) and “perfect” prayer. George MacDonald seems to be saying that getting lost in a moment of wonder, staring at the “great blue beautifulness” of the sky or whatever, just might be a way of approaching Cassian’s ideal of perfect prayer. It’s certainly something to ponder — the next time you’re staring aimlessly out the window.