Monday, January 16, 2012

Don't forget to pray

Whether we care to admit it or not, our mortal life is made up only of time. To complicate matters, we do not know how much time we have. So, how we spend our time is hugely important. Life is too amazing and wonderful to waste time or to kill time, though I suppose we all do that at least once in awhile. All of these observations make us think of things like so-called "bucket lists," a term with which I was wholly unfamiliar until very recently. Bucket lists, far from being bad, are good when used appropriately.

I remember a professor I had in college, a man who took me under his wing a little bit, who was really interested in reality. He told me once that his parents came into some inherited money and that they spent most of the money traveling the world, visiting many historical, cultural, and exotic locations. He also said that all his mother had at the end of the day were boxes full of unsorted pictures.

The calculable finitude of our mortal lives, about which the psalmist wrote, "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away" (Ps. 90:10), should aid us in keeping things in perspective. A few years ago a heard an interview with an international journalist who, late in his career, went back and interviewed the happiest people he had met while traveling the world. He asked them to tell him the reasons for their happiness. One elderly German man insisted that to be happy you must reflect for a few minutes each day on the fact that you're going to die, not in order to be morbid, but to help you continually focus on what truly matters in life and not get distracted by all the shiny objects. As Shakespeare memorably wrote: "All that glisters is not gold." So, memento mori (i.e., remembering death) is not necessarily an exercise in morbidity. In his dialogue Phaedo (Sections 61-69), Plato's Socrates insists that philosophy is but preparation for death.

All of this is a long wind up to bring me to the point I want to make, which is about the utter necessity of prayer, our need to pray. Billy Graham once asked, "Have you ever said, 'Well, all we can do now is pray'?" He went on to observe that prayer is very (too?) often our last resort instead of our very first. Wisely, instead of lambasting his readers for this failure, Dr. Graham goes on to note, "When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God." When we consider our finitude, the inevitability of death, which is the horizon over which we cannot see, it is comforting to know that our perceived end is only God's beginning. Put another way, what we see as our end is only a means to fully realizing the end for which we were created, redeemed, and for which we are being sanctified: our loving and lovely God, who, because of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit, we say, "Abba, Father." Hence, prayer is an opportunity for us to experience, at least to some degree, the "not yet" right now.

In this same piece, Dr. Graham assured us, "We don't need to be embarrassed that we are needy. God doesn't demand that we pray in King James English, or even eloquence. Every feeble, stumbling heard by God. A cry, a sigh, a 'Help!' are all prayers according to the Psalms."

There is a reason that praying first thing in the morning and last thing at night are time-proven practices. Don't forget, even taking time to utter feeble words of petition, lament, and/or gratitude are ways not just of remembering death and expressing our great need, but are acts of hope in the One who loved us not only to death, but enough to conquer death.

For MLK/Human Rights Day, I draw your attention to something from the archives: MLK/Human Rights Day- X Factor Ed(Add?)ition


  1. I very much appreciate, when it comes to the necessity of praying without ceasing, or in all times, what Bl. Solanus Casey would say: "Thank God ahead of time."

  2. I love this post! Thank you! I am always heartened by the idea that God knows the quietest longings of our hearts, even when we cannot find the words to voice them.


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