06 Oct Prayer is a Mystery
Is there anything more enigmatic in all the world than prayer? Prayer is a core practice for people of faith whether they adhere to Christianity, Judaism or Islam. I can only speak for my own faith tradition and my own personal experiences in prayer, of course, and from where I sit, prayer is a mystery.
Many people enjoy the suspense of reading a good mystery novel or watching a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat murder drama, and the board game “Clue” was one of my favorites growing up. But, the truth is that we often don’t do very well with mystery in our own lives. We want to know what’s going on, not guess or wait or wonder. Some of our drive to know is rooted in a scientific understanding of the world and how it works. Science has been an invaluable gift in literally thousands of ways, but it becomes a hindrance when we forget that all truth cannot be dissected under a microscope. Some truth just refuses to be reduced to scientific data.
But, I think the bigger reason we struggle with mystery is that it thwarts our sense of being in control—and being in control is one of our most cherished delusions. We don’t let go of it easily and certainly not without a fight which is exactly what makes embracing the mystery of prayer so difficult.
One of my favorite books on prayer is a small treasure by Anne Lamott entitled Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. In addition to succinctly capturing the three major categories of our communication with God, Lamott also shares these observations about prayer:
“Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence….Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up….We pray without knowing much about whom we are praying to. We pray not really knowing what to pray for. We pray not really knowing how to pray.”
The fascinating thing, though, is that in prayer, all of this “not knowing” is perfectly okay. In fact, it might be exactly where we need to be to learn what prayer and faith are all about. I don’t know how prayer works, but I pray anyway. The not knowing, i.e., the mystery, focuses me on the relationship rather than the mechanics or the outcome. The mystery of it all invites me to trust that God is good, that God is at work, that God hears me and is answering my prayers in ways that I may not see or understand, at least not now, not yet.
I can’t help but wonder: is embracing the mystery of prayer the beginning of embracing the mystery of God? Prayer stretches my spiritual muscles, giving me greater flexibility and strength with which to be present before God. Prayer is not about getting it “right.” It’s about showing up and humbling ourselves that we may “be still and know that [God] is God. (Psalm 46:10)
Yours for the Kingdom,