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The Practice of Prayer, part 5: Pray Without Ceasing

Pray without ceasing

–1 Thessalonians 5:17

What do we think about when we’re not thinking about anything special?  Do we ever simply stop the work we are doing during the day, look straight ahead, and pray?      

  — Joan Chittister

I find it important to keep time specifically for prayer, time when everything else is set aside. But the goal of this prayer time is not to establish a sanctuary untouched by my daily life, but to cultivate an inward turning toward God that will spread through and transform every part of my daily life, like the leaven in the loaf.

I don’t do this very well yet. Too often as I work my mind is full of background noise—resentments, daydreams, long lists of worries.  Too often I think and act as though the point of my work were to prove something about myself or to ensure my own security. But sometimes prayer really does infuse my daily tasks. Sometimes I can own in my own life Thomas Carlyle’s declaration that ‘work is worship.’

People have used many practices to integrate prayer into all aspects of their lives. Some stop for prayer at regular intervals so that they are frequently reminded of the One for whom, and by whose grace, they work. Some use simple breath prayers that can be kept up while they work with their hands. I mostly just try to step out of my own way and be really present to what is present to me—to the task at hand, to the soil and plants and animals with which I work, to the people I meet. If I really pay attention to anything created I find myself drawn back toward the Creator.

I don’t think there is one right way to pray, either in times of retirement or in the midst of work. Jean Vanier wrote, “Prayer is like a secret garden made up of silence and rest and inwardness.  But there are a thousand and one doors into this garden, and we all have to find our own.”

May we all have the insight to find our own doors, and the discipline to keep returning to the garden, refreshing our souls.

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