All of us pray. If we are about to hit another car (or be hit), we cry “help”. When we hear bad news that touches us deeply, we say, “Oh, God!” When we look into the eyes of our beloved or see the beauty of a glowing sunset, something stirs our hearts with a feeling too deep for words. We pray, though often we don’t call it that. We reach beyond ourselves or another human being to a Power that might account for our experience, though, again, often do not name that Power.
Our praying takes another turn when we are more intentional. We consciously turn toward the transcendent Other and ask for what we need or give thanks for what we have already received. We find that the more intentional we are the deeper our relationship. As with any relationship, we have to give it time to have it grow. And what we discover is that we are not in control here; there is Another who precedes us, who initiated the relationship, and who calls us ever more deeply.
When we name that Other, our relationship takes still another turn. In the Christian tradition, we pray to Abba, through Jesus, Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We enter a dance in which the Father breathes the Spirit into the Son, and the Son, in turn, breathes the Spirit back into the Father, and we discover that we are both receiving and giving love ourselves. One writer puts it this way, “Divine love is compassionate, tender, luminous, totally self-giving, seeking no reward, unifying everything.” When I held this understanding before one person, she said, “That’s too good to be true.” But many of us have found that is good and true and beautiful.
Tom Ward is the retired university chaplain of the University of the South and now spends his days focusing on the contemplative dimension of the Gospel.