T.S. Eliot declared that, “Prayer is more than an order of words, or the sounds of the voice praying, or the conscious occupation of the praying mind.” He recognized that prayer is not a perfunctory performance “because it is what Christians do”. You know, “Wind me up and watch me pray and therefore I’m a Christian.”
Prayer is a mystery and I’m not for sure how to define it. I think it always starts as a “perfunctory performance” but at some point in one’s life it needs to go beyond, to become more of a meditative enterprise.
I love what Shakespeare had to say about prayer in Hamlet. Hamlet’s step father, Claudius, is on his knees praying and lamented, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” Shakespeare recognized that when we merely throw words around, when we trot out the usual “prayer” verbiage, when we are consciously choosing our words so that we “pray right”, then our prayers “never to heaven go.”
I recently started reading Thomas R. Kelley’s book, A Testament of Devotion, and he noted the following re prayer: We pray, and yet it is not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. Something of our punctiform selfhood is weakened, but never lost. All we can say is, ‘Prayer is taking place, and I am given to be in the orbit.’
This is an overwhelming notion that I am presenting here. And I don’t have it figured out. And I don’t think the right thing to do is to wait until I have it figured out. The right thing to do is to pray and always remember what the Apostles asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (See Luke ch. 11))