It goes without saying that prayer is at the heart of our spiritual life. In the traditional sense it is just talking with God. It can be words spoken aloud or with quiet thoughts. The talking may be recitation of a formal prayer, such as The Lord’s Prayer, or spontaneous thoughts expressed in thanksgiving, frustration, or as an appeal for help. Sometimes we may even think or say thoughts in anger, even at God.
Ordinarily, when we think of praying we assume that prayers need words. Music and art can also express our inner desires when we can’t find the right words. Fortunately, God understands our thoughts and emotions even when we are unable to express them in any form. God may even prefer for us to simply have the intention to be present for God without words, thoughts, or emotions – or even music or art. Words, sounds, and signs may lock us into our thoughts and leave little room for God to speak to our hearts.
Gandhi once said, “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness…And so, it is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
In our experience it appears that God wants the deepest treasure of our lives – a loving heart filled with gratitude for the gift of life. And while our longing for God remains, especially in our weakness, God’s longing for us is so dear that God has planted God’s self within us. Discovering our true selves is a matter of relating to the God within, through prayer offered in traditional forms of prayer and beyond.
When I was at Chichester Cathedral in England last summer I came across a beautiful hanging of stitchery art entitled the Pattern of Prayer. All of the words of this description of prayer were stitched by hand on a simple background of cloth. The words express a beautiful way of thinking about prayer beyond the reach of formal prayers and worship. I share it with you.
“No choirs of angels, no round of applause, no hip-hip-hallelujahs, no song and dance
Be still…in secret
Draw with words and silence the shape of your heart
this is prayer
within this framework lay down the fragile pieces of your life’s tapestry
some beautifully made
some precious beyond measure
some worthless rags
the intricate designs, the random scraps
they are the patchwork of who you are,
every piece sewn together
by the unbreakable golden thread
woven from the love of God
put aside the shadows of the future
unseen, uncertain, unknown and unknowable
live in the shining light of eternity
be still…in secret
draw with words and silence
the shape of your heart
touch the power and the glory
for ever and ever…now
this is prayer
Prayer is reflection on the story of your life put together as a tapestry or a patchwork quilt. It has beautiful pieces and fragile pieces…intricate designs and random scraps. And it is a place where you can be still…in secret…without needing to sew another stitch. Just be. Draw with words and silence the shape of your heart. You will find that you are living a precious moment, feeling the warm shining light of eternity. Forgiveness…mercy…grace are woven into your tapestry by the love of God. This is prayer.