How I Pray {Part Three}

How I Pray {Part Three} August 20, 2022

{Photo by Stephen Averett for Scopio}

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Frederick Buechner (“Grace,” in Wishful Thinking)

Recently my friend Ali introduced me to this description of prayer: “where the this meets the more-than-this.” Of late, I’ve also heard expressions of fear from different friends. Fear of physical vulnerability in the face of looming medical tests. Fear of losing a partner seriously struggling with illness. Fear of financial insecurity in the face of job loss. Fear of threatening conflict with someone close to their lives. Right now, fear is a daily reality for some close to me, and for me.

This, these fears, these struggles, is such a given. It seems we get a reprieve now and again from serious struggle; then it comes around again. We cannot escape the “this,” the pain and uncertainty and struggle. And yes, fear. The “this” of life keeps us up at night.

When the Divine or a spirit being encounters someone in the scriptures, we almost always hear: “Do not be afraid.” Often in these circumstances someone is freaking out at seeing an angel; other times Jesus simply reminds his friends: “Do not be afraid.” Have no fear. But how can we not be afraid, when we are so often confronted with the “this” of our lives, with so much struggle, uncertainty, and loss? Especially when fear is an imaginative venture. It often arises from our tendency to imagine ‘what if’s’. What if I never meet someone, and end up alone for the rest of my life? What if I must give up the home I live in? What if this person sues me? What if my depressed child becomes suicidal or turns to drugs? What if’s are horror stories told to us by our highly imaginative brains.

We go to what if’s because we cannot see the ‘more-than-this.’ The more-than-this is the realm of the Divine. It is the realm of possibilities openings grace redemption, that lie beyond the ‘this’ of our lives. One reason, perhaps the main reason, prayer is so important is that it draws us to the edge of what we can see, to encounter the realm of possibility that lies beyond it. This isn’t about asking for things. It’s more about being in God’s presence to be reminded that we are not in control, and that the realm of God is infinitely more than we can imagine, it is the ‘more-than-this.’ And it is more real than the imagined what-if’s of our fears.

“Prayer is where the this meets the more-than-this.” In prayer, we can be reminded: All of this stuff, all of the this of our lives is small, and the more-than-this so infinite. These aren’t nice words to make us feel better. Instead, I think we can look back of situations in our lives where we despaired, where we were in such acute pain and fear we couldn’t see beyond our fingernails, and we see how God transformed those situations, taking care of us in ways we could not, at the time, have imagined. We look back and see how the more-than-this was there through it, working repair even as things seemed hopeless. I see this pattern again and again in my own life. Do you? Yes, terrible things happened. But alongside those things were graces. Relationships were healed; provisions were made; unexpected laughter came; strength was built; magic occurred; new beginnings were made; love flooded in.

A central prayer practice I use to find my way to the more-than-this is gratitude. Almost all of my prayers begin with ‘thank you.’ I express ‘thank you’ for things that have not occurred but that I believe are part of the more-than-this. Thank-you’s for the unfurling repairs and graces beyond what has yet been experienced or seen. For example, if a friend feels trapped and despairing because of a job that runs her down, I’ll pray: “Thank you for her new job that uses her gifts. Thank you for her job she loves.” I’ll repeat this thank-you like a mantra. If a friend is fighting a physical battle, I’ll pray: “Thank you for his healing and wholeness. Thank you for giving him joy.” I’ll pray it like a mantra—over and over, holding the image of repair in hope and love. This practice surrounds the prayer with the energy of gratitude and trust, rather than an energy of fear. I believe trust is a powerful, transformative energy. Prayers of gratitude—especially for things yet to come, for things envisioned in the loving recesses of our hearts—express trust rather than fear.

Fear has its own momentum. A powerful way to counter fear is with the momentum of gratitude.

You can read Part One and Part Two of this series, “How I Pray,” HERE and HERE.

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