For me a useful way to look at prayer is as a conversation, a conversation with God. A God who loves and cares for us, as individuals, as communities and for our neighbours.
God’s love for creation, the planet and all living things is endless. But not everyone is aware of this. Carmelites cherish the memory that over the centuries, many of its adherents have been mystics, those have directly experienced this awareness of God bathing us in love. How is that conversation sparked off?
For us as a community the royal road is through a daily gathering together for Eucharist. There we tell God how we are experiencing what is happening to us, listen to God’s message to us in the scriptures, celebrate God’s presence among us in the sharing of bread and wine, before renewing our determination to spread God’s love to those around us by our witness and service to them.
We gather at other times during the day, where the focus is on the psalms, our collective experience of God in his relationship with us and use this period to petition God for what we think is important at this moment.
There is a development particularly by the poor and the marginalised to reflect deeply on the scripture of the day to see what action we need to take, to alleviate the suffering and injustices that are being experienced. But the conversation is not just communal.
As individuals, we need to set aside times and places where we can be attentive, where we can focus our energies on developing and deepening our personal relationship with God. We develop a rhythm, a habit of prayer, a time to be alone, in a quiet place, to be in awe of how God is working in our lives, and how best we can co-operate with God.
This part of the conversation is more of a listening, to all the signs around us to the invitations that God is showering on us in the hope of enticing us into greater intimacy.
In these quiet contemplative moments, we can come to the realisation, that it in in the rough and tumble of daily life especially in our families and through our children that we echo the Trinitarian flow of relationships of the love that is God.
It is in this world of relationships, always changing, where we are being challenged to better reflect through our lives God’s saving mission. But in these conversations, in this growing awareness of how God is working through us that we need to remember God is a God of surprises. We cannot limit God or dictate how God will be.
Elijah, the prophet of Carmel, a man of prayer and deep conviction, was sure that he was doing God’s will. He felt called to warn the community as they were straying from God.
He demonstrated God’s sovereignty through imposing a drought and by spectacularly vanquishing other competing gods on Mount Carmel. However, despite all his efforts, when threatened, he fled, depressed, hoping to be vindicated by God. Elijah came to a stark realisation that God was working not just through him, or where Elijah expected God to be, traditionally, in wind, earthquake, or fire.
God came to Elijah in sheer silence, and Elijah because of his relationship, his conversations, recognised God present in the silence.
So, for us, our prayer is not to dwell in the past or plan for the future. It is not a school or a method or something in which you can get a qualification. Prayer, that conversation, is to practice the presence of God, in the here and now, to savour the invitation to intimacy that God offers us in love. Or as Jesus put it
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Paul de Groot O.Carm