Sunday, February 16, 2014

Thoughts on Prayer

Thoughts on Prayer

One balmy summer Saturday evening, when my parents and I were standing outside church after mass in conversation with our Canadian pastor, we overheard my brother, who was still inside the church packing up his organ music books, talking.

“Is he talking to himself or talking to God?” asked our pastor, with his characteristic smile and quirky sense of humor.

“No,” replied my father, “I think he’s just talking to Liz.” Liz is the lady who locks up the church after the priest and parishioners leave.

Our pastor laughed, and said that he hoped that none of us were offended by this question, and we all assured him that we weren’t.

“Of course, with Davey you never know,” said my mother.

Conversing with God

The minister, Mr. Griffith, in How Green was my Valley tells young Huw Morgan that another word for prayer is “Good, clean, direct thinking.”

Many liturgical Christians may rebel at this, but let us ask ourselves, isn’t there good clean thinking in our liturgical prayers? One of the greatest Catholic thinkers of the 20th Century, J.R.R. Tolkien, also said that in many cases prayer was a matter of thinking.

From the Jews and from the German Christians whom they taught, I learned that man is, or should be, in a state of dialogue with the thous around him: with the Great Thou (God) and with his brethren, and even with other parts of creation, for, as the Jews also taught the German Christians, God is both transcendent Creation and is immanent within Creation.

We as Christians know that God is present in other people. It was through the teachings of the Jewish Philosopher Martin Buber that I came to understand how it is that by loving our neighbor, we love God. Our Lord said that the second commandment was like unto the first, and I believed it, but it was only through the teachings of the Jewish philosopher that I began to understand this teaching of Christ.

We live in constant dialogue with God, with neighbor, with creation. Perhaps this is what it means to pray without ceasing. If so, then one of the greatest practitioners of this prayer was a man who had received such little theological instruction that he was too embarrassed to make any theological statements, but who, when asked why he was the greatest composer of his time, answered, without bragging, “because I talk to God the most,” and that poorly catechized man was Ludwig van Beethoven.

Perhaps it is this awareness of God’s great presence is what prayer consists of. Perhaps, if we know that God is present always, then whether we are with fellow human beings or alone, whether we are doing dishes, at the piano, raising our voices in song, conversing, watching a silly (wholesome) TV show with our loved ones, reading, learning, teaching our children, working in the garden, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, listening to Beethoven, changing a tire, playing with the dog, walking through the woods, smelling the roses, or thinking in our own rooms, we can be, we should be, we are in dialogue with God. Yes, perhaps this is prayer without ceasing.

This state of dialogue with God and neighbor also brings more meaning to those times when we are called to formal prayer. Beethoven, in the picture above, was working on a mass setting, his Missa Solemnis, which he spent four entire years of his life writing. And yet the act of creation was also a prayer. Tolkien would have said so.

And it was the same Mr. Griffith who said to the newly recovered Huw, "and it will be the first duty of those new legs of yours to bring you to chapel next Sunday." And in taking Huw onto the flower-covered hill top in the spring, helping him to learn to walk again, and teaching him about prayer, Mr. Griffith was himself praying.