One of my favorite classes in seminary was Readings in Christian Spirituality; it was a class in which we read one text a week from a different notable Christian writer. We started that cold January day all the way in the 3rd century, and worked our way through to the present as winter faded into spring, reading one book from one author, century by century. It was a lot of reading and not all of it got read (St. John of the Cross has still yet to be read in entirety), but it was an invaluable class. In 15 weeks, I got a broad spanning snapshot of what it meant to be a person of faith in various cultural backdrops.
One constant, throughout all those centuries is prayer. Not the prayer of tweets about “thoughts and prayers,” but real, deep, prayer in which you bring to God all that delights or worries you. It’s not the prayer that is built with selfish goals, but it is the prayer of the deep desire to know and to be known by God.
One of my favorite authors we read in this class was Julian of Norwich; despite being an absolutely fascinating person and spiritual leader, she writes beautifully as well. Perhaps you have been overwhelmed or worried someone has given to you the refrain, “all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This gets used so much because it strikes to the heart of what we all know to be true; Julian writes well and what she writes sticks.
Prayer is a tricky thing; it’s easy to assume that it takes more or less work than it actually does. It’s difficult to know what’s worth bringing to God in prayer and challenging to remember that prayer to God is not a candy dispenser in which we will get what we want and ask for immediately. It’s hard to remember that even in the overwhelming nature of our world today, our prayers still matter; our prayers still please God and still stir up within us good and right things.
When I was reading through Julian of Norwich today, I was struck by one of the things she says about prayer: “Pray wholeheartedly, though you may feel nothing, though you may see nothing, yes, though you think that you could not, for in dryness and in barrenness, in sickness and in weakness, then is your prayer most pleasing to [God], though you think it almost tasteless to you.”†
Pray when you can’t bear the sight of the news, pray when you think that there is just too much wrong with this world, pray when you feel tender and worried. Pray, and as Julian asks of us, pray wholeheartedly.
†Julian of Norwich, Showings. Trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh. New Jersey: Paulist Press. 1978. 249.