Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17
I admit that I’m not much of a fan of devotions. And yet, here I am writing one.
I worry that short, written devotions may inspire good feelings and nice thoughts, but with little lasting impact. They endow their wordsmiths with opportunities to demonstrate their felicity of expression. Like yours truly, the fellow who just wrote “felicity of expression” because he’s feeling a tad pretentious right now.
Words can certainly possess a transformative power, from “I do” to “I have a dream.” But that power exists by virtue of participation in a greater reality – that Word which, John tells us, was made flesh and tabernacled among us. That dwells amidst our tents to this very day, although we often lack eyes to see and ears to hear.This Word that speaks even when we are struck dumb.
Perhaps if we catch a fuller glimpse of this world-making Word, every little word that stumbles forth from our lips might become a prayer. And certainly every work of our hands. We would fulfill Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing, for the entirety of our days would become the recognition of a perpetual communion with God we already possess by virtue of being alive.
Yeah, I know. It sounds absurd, like I’m pining for the fevered piety that some of us had when we first believed, or that the early church possessed, or was imagined to possess, and which we read about in places like Acts 2. Such energy rises up in tremendous flame and burns out quickly, as if the law of entropy is as much a spiritual principle as it is a physical one.
But then I recall the testimonies of persons who claim that unceasing prayer is a reality – not because they worked themselves up to it, but because they surrendered themselves to pay attention to God, and what they found was a Divine Companion always both speaking and listening. The pursuit of unceasing prayer is, of course, most commonly associated with monastic traditions, in which persons give their lives wholly to spiritual pursuits, unfettered by the demands of career, family, and finances.
And yet its realization was also claimed by Frank Laubach, an early-20th century Congregationalist missionary. In his Letters By a Modern Mystic he wrote, “Oh, this thing of keeping on constant touch with God, of making him the object of my thought and the companion of my conversations, is the most amazing thing I ever ran across.” This from a busy and practical man who launched a global literacy program, not a self-absorbed navel-gazer.
Where might one begin? Richard Foster, the Quaker proponent of spiritual disciplines, has a chapter on this topic in his book Prayer. One could read the example of Brother Lawrence in the classic work Practicing the Presence of God.
Or, like the early Christian monks of the desert, one can begin with the inner recitation, breath-by-breath, of what has come to be called the Jesus Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Whatever path you trod this Lent, may it be marked by an increasing awareness that you are not, and never have been, alone.
— Chris Schelin