Prayer is simply the means by which we train ourselves to be more aware of our relationship with God and his presence in the world. The relationship already exists; prayer is what nourishes it.
As a pilgrim people belonging to God, through prayer we are called like the ancient Israelites into the desert—where it is dry, desolate, untamed, and uninhabited. God calls us where he can most fully manifest himself to us. Spiritually speaking, the desert is where we have no resources of our own and are utterly dependent on God. It is where we are overwhelmed by God’s infinite mercy.
The desert deep within our soul is a difficult place to go. It frightens us. We try to avoid it if we can. We can take care of ourselves, we think. But it is only in the desert we realize that we can’t, and that we need God. And when we accept that, an oasis of riches springs forth from that desert to nourish us.
Prayer, ultimately, is about conversion, our transformation in Christ, and that occurs when we become aware of God’s infinite willingness and ability to supply all that we lack. His mercy and love are greater than our sin and failure. But to know infinite goodness, we must first acknowledge what is limited and imperfect.
The desert provides this contrast, and it is where the Holy Spirit invites us in prayer.
Prayer also expresses our faith. Other things (such as works of mercy) do as well, but prayer is foremost because it acknowledges our need to be in right relationship with God—it is our relationship with God. Prayer is God’s invitation to dedicate our time and being to a fuller appreciation of the divine, so that our vision broadens and our hearts expand with love. It is a lifelong rhythm of listening and responding to God’s call for conversion of heart—personally and communally.
Prayer is not a means by which we attempt to persuade God to give us this or that, or to do this or that. It is open, honest, full-hearted conversation with a God who loves us beyond measure, so that we may become our true selves in the divine image. We pray to be changed into who God wishes us to be—not orphans, but children of God.
-- Excerpted from Grace in the Wilderness:
Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word Along Life’s Journey
© Abbey Press Publications, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, 2013