For many, prayer is a problem. There may be an inescapable sense that one is not being sincere. Perhaps it is assumed that the very starting point of prayer is faith, and faith is apparently lacking. The language of prayers may seem outdated, even false. They don’t answer me and I have difficulty speaking them. My mind may be in a state of skepticism, doubt, even argument. What’s the point of prayer? Is it just false consolation? A dream? Self-delusion?
In this condition, how is it possible to begin? First of all, there is the incipient desire to pray, in spite of all, and in this wish may be found a way. Honoring this small but honestly felt desire, we can begin to pray as if we believe. The swarming, stinging wasps of doubt and hesitation for all manner of reasons can be calmed and settled down by the willingness to undertake prayer as a conditional experiment. We can begin to pray as if, and in so doing, open the door to the only thing that convinces—our own experience.
As long as we hold back because we are not ready, not able, not sincere, not a believer, we lock ourselves out of the very realm that can make us more ready, make us more able, more sincere, and less doubtful. Because the Lord’s Prayer comes to us from Christ as Teacher, as Master, it comes from the heart of God, and speaks directly to us.
Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemman wrote that the Lord’s Prayer is always addressed to each of us personally anew, meets us in all our needs, and yet at the same time “it remains eternal and unchanging in its essence, always calling us to what is most important, to the ultimate to the highest.”
The Lord’s Prayer has the unique capability of making our conditional praying–our praying as if–possible and fruitful. Once we let down our guard, we find no deep resistance. It feels true. It is meant for each one of us, and it does speak to each one of us. When listened to attentively, the Lord’s Prayer leads us, and we become able to follow.
We experience for ourselves with humility the truth expressed by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The conceiving even of the wish is prayer in God’s eyes…correspondence on our side is not so much corresponding as the wish to correspond, and this least sigh of desire, this one aspiration, is the life and spirit of the human being.”
There is a way to begin for everyone who feels the wish to begin. Even when we start with a conditional, as-if prayer, it is not false. The unconditional prayer is soon revealed, and the way ahead slowly disclosed.