I used to end my days in some sort of solitude and stillness, but I’ve learned these days that I actually benefit (and the world benefits through me) from some time like that in the morning to start my day. So I usually start my day with some sort of reading, journaling, contemplation, meditation, prayer, silence, stillness.
I grew up with people trying to explain to me what prayer was. I learned what it was for, what it does, why it works, how to do it, what makes it in/effective. None of that was full-proof (in terms of how or why it works, what makes it effective—there’s no formula I’ve learned). Here’s the 4-step prayer, the 7-part prayer, the 12-point prayer, etc. Everyone had their new theories and implications. Throughout it all it was described as something that was dialogue, but perhaps less than 1% of all the talks and books I had seen on it were about listening which in any normal dialogue should be at the very least, 51% (you like that?). In my opinion, it should comprise the bulk of a conversation, as I’m just trying to learn from the other and make the other one.
So these days I’ve dropped all the rules and definitions and let it be what it is. My definition of prayer has greatly widened even beyond the conversation. I see much action as prayer for instance. I first learned that from a freelance missionary woman I greatly admire. She’s a woman who completely, transparently is riddled with doubts in her work with the people among the people alongside the people. As she works with people living in the garbage dump she reminds me of what Bonhoeffer called living in the world before God and with God as if there is no God. And in that, I think, she’s able to experience a taste, a life of the Listening. A writer who I’ve met before described his idea of God as the Great Listening. Perhaps God has spoken all God shall speak and now is listening to us. He describes prayer as an opportunity to listen to the Great Listening and tap into the heart of what it means to be a part of this world.
I think in this way it is a much powerful testament to me to see a life thus engaged in the world then the other extreme of a life fully engaged in traditional prayer, partly because if prayer is anything, it is a hope, and the former person has incarnated that hope in tirelessly tiring life.
So today it’s quite possible for me to sit and listen for an entire prayer and say nothing. This is not out of abdication of any responsibility or role but rather the realization that there is no such requirement, the recognition that there is so much to learn, and the release of any answers. Moreover, I’ve learned how to keep that listening actively engaged throughout the day, every place I go, in every face I see, inside every conversation I engage, through every hand I touch. . . .always listening.
Who knows? There may be something still in that old adage: “Quick to listen, slow to speak.” Even slow to act. But when you do speak or act, you can be sure you are armed with the hopes, dreams, wishes, frustrations, aspirations, and struggles of all those you have come alongside with and have partnered in the communal circle of life. Stillness.