Presence | Experience | Coherence
As my own knowing of God has been transformed over the years, my journey of prayer has changed too. In the past, my prayers were filled with requests (or, more often, demands) that God would act in the world to bring about change and alter things more to my liking. That God would adjust reality so that things would go better for me.
In the season of Lent this year I have been reflecting on how my experience of prayer these days has changed, and it is mirrored in my understanding of this sacred journey. The story of Lent is the story of Jesus, and the story of the way in which God enters in a unique way into our journey of challenge, suffering, embodiment, and so into authentic human existence. It is God entering fully into the human experience and then leading us on a journey of presence through the darkness toward new life.
And so, I allow my rhythm of prayer to echo this story; to pulse with the repeating refrains of presence, experience and coherence.
God is present. No effort is needed to convince God to “arrive”. No amount of religious devotion can make the Spirit more present than she already is. The primary ancient Hebrew metaphor for Spirit was ruach. Spirit – breath – wind. Holy Spirit hovers over the deepness in Genesis 1, and breathes life into all things. The Spirit was then, and is here, now. Prayer does not need to be the twisting of God’s arm to ‘turn up’, God is already closer than our own breath. But prayer can be about cultivating awareness and remembrance. That in the middle of the clutter and cacophony of sound around us, we can simply pause, and breathe, and remember, and be reminded that God is with us.
And because God is with us, because Holy Spirit breathes in and through us, we can bring before God our experience of the lived life. The good and bad, the joyful and melancholic, our successes and failures, hopes and anxieties. The Psalmists (in the biggest book of prayers we have in scripture) demonstrate this to us continually. They express profound faith and hope, they descend into despair and desperation; and all of it is prayer. All of it is brought to the surface in the presence of the divine.
And our hope is to bring those two things together into a coherent place. That we can cultivate an awareness of the Spirit’s presence in the midst of where we’re at and what we’re dealing with. As in the Lenten journey, we are able to recognise that Jesus becomes our companion on the journey. That God’s response to the complexity of our lives - to the pain and to the joy - is to enter into it with us. And to lead us forward into new life.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord