Saturday, 9 January 2016
The Perfect Prayer
I have been exposed to the set prayers of Catholicism and heard the beautiful call to prayer from mosque speakers. I have seen Buddhists kneel down in temples before statues of their enlightened founder and pray with heads bowed to the floor.
I try to pray multiple times each day. There are days where I don't. I'm very conscious of repeating tedious words and phrases.
Prayer is a great struggle for me, yet at the same time, a grand spiritual experience.
As a Mormon, I have learned a lot about how to pray. My mission president had us read and re-read repeatedly an article named "The Proper Pattern of Prayer" which went into detail on how to pray properly to God. We also have before us examples of the sacred language of prayer given by Jesus, for instance, in John 17 - the use of 'thee', 'thy', 'thine' and 'thou', along with the most basic concepts that investigators are taught - to address our Father, give thanks, ask questions, and close in the name of Christ.
But does God not hear the untidy, illiterate prayer just as clearly as the eloquent, well-prepared prayer? If I just go through a methodical introduction each time I pray, what does that actually mean?
Sometimes I think we can over complicate things, and sometimes we can be too repetitive with things, like prayer. Here, I'm not thinking of the language or structure of a perfect prayer, but rather the content.
It's important for me to be myself but sometimes it feels like I'm straining to be something else. There are times when this conflict is so great that I find myself entirely lost for words during prayer or lost for thoughts while preparing to pray.
Hilary Weeks' song "The Perfect Prayer" sums up my exact feelings. I've been listening to this song since 2004 when I was a young missionary. Here are the lyrics:
"I may not know just what to say
Or how to put it into words sometimes.
My tongue gets tied.
All the words of other men
Seem to sound so eloquent
Compared to mine.
When my brokenness is all I have to share
I may stumble and stutter, but to You
It's the perfect prayer.
I want to speak words from my heart
But I just don't know where to start sometimes.
What are my lines?
I may not please the ear of man
But somehow You still understand
And it's all right.
If I'm honest You will meet me anywhere
And anything I whisper in Your name
Is the perfect prayer.
If I stood and paid You tribute
With a long impassioned speech
It still wouldn't mean as much
As when I fall to my knees.
When my silences are all I have to share
My quiet time I spend in thoughts of You
Is the perfect prayer."
I feel that my contemplative thoughts are just as much a prayer as my quietly uttered words. I also feel like I need to un-learn or forget everything I have been taught about prayer so that I can actually 'speak words from my heart' and for it to sound meaningful and my own. When preparing to pray either publicly or privately, I just take a deep breath and press the reset button so that there is no programming left in me as to what to say, allowing me to bin the robotic and exercise the natural.
I think, of all the scriptural accounts of people talking with God, Enos had the right idea. I wish there was more in the record about Enos! He described his prayer as a 'wrestle' and he was 'struggling' to speak to God. His 'soul hungered' for communication with the Divine and he did it by 'pour[ing] out [his] whole soul.' He further remarked that he prayed for others 'with many long strugglings.' (Enos 1) He didn't seem to be burdened by a checklist of things to say or a specific approved method to follow.
This is the guy whom I can identify with about prayer. I'm sure there were many silent moments while he prayed 'all the day long' in addition to the 'long strugglings' he encountered.
Prayer doesn't have to be dictated with precision or flowery language. There is no set method or standard for content to be strictly followed. It is the personal and deeply meaningful yearnings of the heart, the long silences where one strives with great effort to spiritually connect with divinity and seek real meaningful conversation that makes a perfect prayer.
Is it really necessary to sophisticate our spoken sentences with the Supreme Being, or should we solely simplify our soliloquies to the Most High?
We are taught in the words of the beautiful hymn, "Prayer Is the Soul's Sincere Desire" that:
'Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.'
The truth is the perfect prayer is always an imperfect sincere sieve of thoughts that slip from our minds as we slowly and silently struggle to systematize solemn correspondence with Deity.
The Apostle Paul stated:
'for when I am weak, then am I strong.'
(2 Corinthians 12:10)
That sounds true for me in prayer.