Why Bother to Contemplate?

Why Bother to Contemplate?

My parents taught me to pray in a particular way. First, one had to have the right posture: kneeling without slumping your back. Secondly, hands were to be folded and eyes were fixed on an icon, such as a crucifix or a statue of one of the saints. If you closed your eyes while praying, people would think you’d gone to sleep.  

I still remember the words and gestures to the sign of the cross and can say it in Polish. I recall the blessing we used to say before every meal, and the“Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys.” During lent, we said part of a rosary every night as a family while kneeling down in front of a statue of Mary. This routine made my back tired and my eyes sleepy. 

I do not doubt the good intentions of my parents. They wanted to instill in their children the importance of prayer. But, whether I prayed or not, it seemed to make no difference to God or to Mary.  

Ponder Anew

Later in life, when I was drawn to return to what little faith I had once possessed, I found myself visiting different churches. These places of worship also had a particular way of praying. Kneeling was no longer required nor was the folding of the hands. Instead, I could stand with eyes wide opened or closed, the palms of my hands facing upward or arms raised overhead. In these churches the only icon was an empty cross. Instead of ending prayers with an amen, now I learned to say, “In Jesus’ name.” 

Though praying no longer involved scripted words, except for the three charmed words, “In Jesus’ name,” it still seemed my prayers changed nothing. I’ve never doubted the existence of God, yet touching base with him through my prayers, seemed futile. Then I began to muse, to wonder, to mull over, and to imagine. I began to contemplate.

Contemplation is simple. Neither special posture or words are required and there is no abracadabra to it. To contemplate means I remember what is true about God. He is present, a perfect father, who loves me perfectly. To contemplate means to rest because all I need I already have. To contemplate means to wait. There are no instant changes, but at the same time, everything changes about me. 

Why bother to contemplate? To think on what is true is not a slam dunk prayer, rather it is a lifetime practice.

Why Bother Thinking About Prayer?

Why Bother Thinking About Prayer?

I grew up in a Catholic family and attended church every Sunday in a  cold cavernous building. Every little noise echoed off the tiled floor and bounced back from the tall arched ceiling.  The hardwood benches squeaked under each motion a person made and though I knew being quiet was the right thing to do, it was impossible. Every move I made reverberated. Just breathing made me feel like a “bad girl.” 

I tried hard to mimic my dad, who knelt in silent and unmoving reverence praying for long periods of time after communion. But kneeling, like the “stare down” competitions I’d have with my little brother, never lasted very long. Focused stillness was not in my chemistry. 

But church was not the only place where my family prayed. Before dinner, we’d fold our hands, and take a solemn posture with bowed heads and in unison we’d say grace, 

“Bless us, Oh Lord,

and these thy gifts which

we are about to receive from thy bounty,

through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

With the “Amen” came the cacophony; “Please pass the potatoes.” “Can I have more bread?” “Mom, Mark just spilled his milk.”

During lent, we said a loop or two of the rosary every night before going to bed. Mom or Dad set up a shrine of Mary on the stair landing and we knelt before her while repeating “Hail Mary’s” in unity. The droning voices only made me sleepy and I wondered if Mary even cared about our family’s devotion to her. 

As a kid, I did not know how my Dad suffered from depression or alcoholism, but I knew that when I made him a birthday card listing the number of prayers I’d said for him, fictitious as the numbers might be, he’d smile. But when he ended his life just before I turned fourteen, I surmised my prayers had fallen on deaf ears.

After that, I stopped praying. I’d witnessed Dad’s commitment to supplication, but it hadn’t “delivered” him from any evil, something I thought it was supposed to do. In my childlike mind, I’d equated my prayers to something similar to a one arm bandit slot machine; you say your prayers, send them off to God and then with any luck, you hit the jackpot and win the answers you’d hoped for. 

 I’ve moved beyond the one arm bandit slot machine idea and have instead experienced prayer differently. Similar to understanding how God can be three in one, prayer is beyond my limited thinking. And yet, I am drawn to commune with Someone I’ve never seen, cannot fully understand and yet believe is present and somehow hears. Prayer does not always or necessarily change my circumstances as much as it changes my view about my circumstances. I like how Madeleine L’Engle put it, “…the mind and the heart, the intellect and the intuition, the conscious and the subconscious mind stop fighting each other and collaborate.” 

Why bother thinking about prayer? It is worth our time to consider how we can view our present events from a different perspective than our current point of view and then consider how we might begin to change.