PRAYER IS A MATTER that I have long been interested in, for both theological and practical reasons. Those in faith traditions other than Christianity have perhaps been more concerned about meditation or other similar religious practices.
This article on prayer is taken from only one part of Chapter 26 in Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT). (I encourage you to read the other three parts by clicking here).
“Prayer is the Soul’s Breathing”
During a trip back to Japan in 2010, a Japanese friend gave me a little book that she had been reading. It was a book on prayer written by Ichiro Okumura, a Catholic priest. I read more than half of that delightful book before discovering that there is an English translation: Awakening to Prayer (1994).
I was struck by the words at the beginning of Okumura’s third chapter: “prayer is the soul’s breathing.” I had not remembered those words that he attributed to Augustine, but I have said, or thought, something quite similar from time to time. That is part of the reason I maintain that prayer is more an attitude and action than words.
While we generally do not think about breathing, our physical life depends on it. And while we may not always be conscious of praying, a healthy spiritual life is dependent upon being in an attitude of prayer continuously.
In recent years in this country, and from ancient times in Asia, considerable attention has been given by some people as to how they breathe. But most of the time, most of us breathe, of necessity, without giving much thought to it at all. Perhaps that is the way it is, or can be, or maybe even should be, with prayer.
“Prayer without Ceasing”
There are times, and probably there should be more times, that we pray consciously, deliberately, and intentionally. But even more important is praying “without ceasing.”
Christians have often puzzled over the meaning of the words “pray without ceasing” in the New Testament (1 Thess. 5:17). But if prayer is like breathing, perhaps it is not so hard to understand—or to do.
We humans don’t find it hard to breathe without ceasing. Of course, we can hold our breath for a short time, but apart from those brief moments, to cease breathing is to cease living.
In a similar way, failure to pray without ceasing is detrimental to our spiritual life.
It is quite apparent that we cannot articulate prayers ceaselessly. But what if prayer is more an attitude than spoken words?
What if prayer is primarily a recognition that we are continually in the presence of God, always dependent on God, and that God’s Spirit is always around us and in us?
Prayer as “Being with God”
Mark E. Thibodeaux is a Jesuit priest who wrote Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer (2001). In that book, he explains the four stages of prayer: talking at God, talking to God, listening to God, and being with God.
True prayer is primarily what is experienced in Thibodeaux’s fourth stage. And that is what I mean by attitude: prayer is the attitude or sense of being with God and of God being with us.
Thus, whether working or playing, whether conversing or reading, whether eating or relaxing, all we do can be with an attitude of awareness of God’s presence.
Knowing that makes it possible to realize that we can, indeed, pray without ceasing.