One of the greatest gifts of faith is undoubtedly the power of prayer, spanning the gulf between God and us. Perhaps the most elemental kind of prayer is simply waiting on God in silence; quiet the chattering monkey inside, and hope to hear. One’s daily work can be done prayerfully; repetitive work like sanding a board can be a mantra.
The story is told of Mother Teresa, who was asked in an interview: When you pray, what do you say? She answered, I don’t say anything; I listen. The interviewer then went on: When you listen,, what does God say to you? She answered, He listens too. There is all we need to know.
Even surrounded by a congregation, prayer can be a lonely exercise. Using the Book of Common Prayer, we may think we pray alike, but do we? Imagine others’ prayers during worship in cartoon balloons over their heads. What disorder we might see: distractions, fantasies, shameful emotions; everything human in a mad fugue. Expand that vision to include a whole city, the church, or the world; we might think of it as one vast liturgy of praise, embracing suffering, love, truth, evasions, peace, and even violence. If God always listens, do we sometimes pray without knowing?
As the Apostle says:
the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:26–27, RSV)
If Paul needs the Holy Spirit to make his prayers acceptable, surely so do we. Fortunately, there is no need to perfect our prayers. There is no danger of presenting an incomplete picture to God; he already knows us better than we know ourselves. He is the one “from whom no secrets are hid” (BCP 323).