When I was in first grade (the same year I challenged Natasha or Rachel to find paradise on a globe), we always prayed before going to the cafeteria to eat lunch. One day, I set my ALF lunchbox on my desk, folded my hands and closed my eyes. While we were praying, something happened that caused my ALF lunchbox to go flying onto the ground, the contents of my lunch splattering across the floor.
The girl next to me, Allison, gasped. Kids “woke up” from their prayers and giggled.
But I kept my eyes closed and I kept my hands folded. Because that’s what you do when you pray.
I remember – though it is just fuzzy enough in my memory that I doubt its historicity – my teacher afterward thanking me for not opening my eyes and picking up the elements of my lunch from the floor until after we finished praying. Because that’s what you do (or don’t do) when you pray.
And so I grew up, an expert (if I do say so myself) in prayer as a practice.
- Prayer happened before meals.
- Prayer happened at church.
- Prayer happened before falling asleep.
- Prayer happend in school (going to a Christian school, we prayed a lot and loved delaying class time with a ridiculous amount of popcorn prayer requests).
In other words, prayer was an event – a practice. Something that you did at set times. It wasn’t a HUGE deal if you forgot to pray, because you could do it at anytime, anywhere. Simply stop your day, find a quiet place, close your eyes and fold your hands and – BOOM! – instant prayer time. But it was a thing that happened. It started and it ended and that was that.
Prayer as a practice is like using dial-up internet. At 28.8 bps, you have to set aside time to boot up, dial the right number, connect (on the first try, if you’re lucky) and get your business done. It may take several times to download that 4MB MP3 from Napster but, be patient, it’ll happen eventually if you are disciplined and patient enough.
At some point, I fell into the concept of prayer as a posture, not just an event. Prayer as posture is a high-speed broadband connection. There is no “dial-up delay” – the connection is always on. Because you always leave your computer on these days, you Google whatever you want whenever you want to. No pre-meditated planning needed. Any random thought can be directed as a prayer.
Reflecting on the last few seasons of life, I find myself, more often than not, posturing prayer rather than practicing prayer.
I am comfortable (though not entirely content) with this. I find myself wishing I had a more disciplined rhythm of practiced prayer in my life, yet I feel freedom to have a running posture of dialogue with God in my head throughout the day. I don’t (always) have stop, pause, and pray; I don’t have to step to the sidelines and put life on hold.
Prayer as posture allows for the recognition that God is present throughout the day, no matter what I am doing or thinking, and that even a millisecond of being aware that God is present with me “counts” as prayer. A posture of prayer is grounding for me, deeply so, and I find it one of the best counteractants to “distance from God” syndrome.
What do you think?
What does prayer “do”? What does it accomplish, in your life?
Is prayer a practice, a posture, or present in some other way? (And what do you think of all those Ps?)?