Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. Rebecca left her political career in 2014, and along with the National Catholic Register, she writes at Patheos on her blog Public Catholic.
My pastor told us something at Mass this weekend that both surprised and confounded me. He said that the number one question he hears from Christian people is “How do we pray?”
I felt when I heard it as if he’d told me that the most-asked question among human beings was “How do we breathe?”
Why should praying, of all simple things, be a learned art? But our Scripture this Sunday revealed that even the disciples didn’t feel they knew. “Lord, teach us to pray,” they asked Jesus, and he responded by teaching them the prayer that Catholics call the Our Father and Protestants call the Lord’s Prayer.
This prayer He gave us is, in many ways, a kind of reflection of the Christian life, moving as it does from confident love and trust to praise, worship, a laying out of our basic needs, on through requests for forgiveness and acknowledgement of our need to extend forgiveness, and finally, a plea for His protection from evil.
Like just about everything that Jesus did and said, the Our Father turned the ideas of his day about reaching out to the Almighty on their head. He taught us, through this simple prayer, that we did not have to come before God, bowing and scraping, slashing ourselves with knives and bearing offerings. We could simply turn to Him, as a baby holds out its arms and asks to be picked up and cuddled, and talk to Him.
The Our Father is an intimate, trusting turning to God. It is a prayer prayed in confidence that we will be heard, and most important of all, that we are loved. It is the antithesis of the religions of Jesus’ day, and many of our own.
The lesson in the Our Father is the lesson of the woman taken in adultery, of the woman who touched the hem of His garment, of Zacchaeus calling to Him from a tree, of Peter, who had the temerity to approach the risen Lord after he had denied Him in His hour of need. It is the lesson of love, trust and hope.
What did these people see, what gave them the trust to go to Him despite their shame and sin, to approach Him and reach out to Him? I think what they saw is the same thing we encounter when we reach out to Him today. They saw love, and they knew then as we know now that love is stronger than death, and love always forgives.
Love inspires trust, like a baby smiling up at its mother with the absolute trust that she is a safe, warm, wonderful place to be. Hope cannot die when it is founded in love like that.
“Teach us to pray,” the Disciples asked Him. Evidently, a lot of Christians are asking this still.
To be honest, I don’t understand why they would ask this. I can only think that someone has taught them something entirely wrong about God and their relationship to Him. Otherwise, they would not think that prayer was something arcane and difficult, something that needs to be taught and learned.
Some religious experts seem to have a vested interest in complicating our relationship with God. These complications create a false distance between us and our Creator that they can insert themselves into. That, in turn, gives them the illusion of a power that they do not have. This behavior is a vestige of the shamanism of the pagan past. It is about their power, not the truth of God.
The truth is, just as I said a moment ago, we do not have to approach the throne of God slashing ourselves with knives and offering up vain sacrifices the way people once approached their deities. We do not have to say the correct incantations or assume the right posture or do anything at all to earn His love and support.
We have his love and support already. He made us to love us. And He does love us. Jesus is the Way by which we approach our Maker. His sacrifice on the cross opened the path between us and the God Who made everything, everywhere.
The sacraments of the Church are simple gateways to God. We can touch Him directly in the Eucharist, and experience His healing in confession. Through them, we can touch, taste and feel God’s love in a reliable and effortless way.
The sacraments heal us and strengthen us for our journey through life. We should partake of them often. But it is a mistake to think that our experience of God is limited, either to the sacraments or to specific formulas for prayer and worship.
God gave us the sacraments so that we could find Him without any effort on our part, simply by partaking. The sacraments are conduits of grace. God is in the sacraments. But he is not contained by them or limited to them.
No matter where we go, no matter what we do or what is done to us, He is there. It does not require effort on our part to experience His love. We don’t have to get anything “right.” He loves us, regardless.
When the mother of the shooter from the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was on testifying at his trial, the defense attorney asked her, “Do you still love your son?”
Perhaps it needed to be said, but the answer was obvious. No mother can stop loving her child. It does not matter what they do. If mortal flesh can love that way, just imagine how much more God, Who is love can and does love us.
So, why do people boggle and worry at the thought of “how” to pray?
Prayer is the simplest thing in the world. It is built on the absolute reliability of the love of God. I can’t help but think that this confusion people evidently feel about how to pray is, in some way, a misunderstanding on their parts of just how much God loves them.
Somewhere, sometime, for some reason, they’ve put limits on God’s love, on how completely He knows them and His desire for them. They’ve confused Him with someone or something other than Who He is.
Prayer can be words. It can be a cry in the dark. It can also be a quiet companionship that has no words.
The rape victim’s anguish is a wordless prayer that God hears even if she doesn’t know it. The cancer victim’s nausea and drug-fogged pain are a wordless prayer. The mother, sitting up all night with a croupy baby, the dad holding his baby while she sleeps, all these are prayers of love, going up to Him.
If you walk and live in Christ, everything you do can be sanctified by His love. Every kindness you do, every tear you cry, every day you live, if you live and walk in Him, is also a form of prayer.
Prayer is your heart, reaching out to His, with your words, your actions and your life. Prayer is also Him, loving you back, sustaining you when you can’t sustain yourself, and walking you home.
My part in my conversion was two words: “Forgive me.” I said them when I was alone, in my car, without really understanding the implications of what I was doing. He did the rest.
As I’ve walked through these cancer months of my life, I’ve prayed. I’ve often asked for courage and the peace which passes understanding. And He has answered me.
But other times, my prayers were just being with Him, trusting Him and letting myself float in His presence. A great deal of the time, that’s what prayer becomes. It is the companionable silence of trust and love, like sharing a quiet evening with your spouse or a dear friend, or being a baby, idling away an hour while being rocked in your parent’s arms.
There is nothing complicated about prayer. Nothing, in truth, that you need to learn. If you can love and allow yourself to be loved, you can pray.
Like everything else in the Christian life, prayer is not a matter of our efforts. It is always and everlastingly an experience of His love.