Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.
- Marie Howe, Prayer
The first time I heard this poem was 2 and a half years ago while listening to On Being, and it felt like the truest thing that had been said about my “adult” prayer life. Or, I suppose, lack thereof.
From the time I had conscious, self-reflective thought (11 years of age for me, give or take) until maybe 19, I had an extremely active prayer life. I felt safe and confident in prayer – confident that I knew how to pray and confident that I was being heard.
And then it was as if I woke up one day in college and realized that I hadn’t even considered God in… days? A week? Longer?
I spent a lot of time considering and mourning my once-and-no-longer comfort and ease of prayer. Prayer was one of several pieces of my childhood I was grieving the loss of, and it also felt representative of many things: certain family relationships, my sense of security in the Christian community, the feeling of being an “insider” in the faith. Feeling sad about not remembering how, when, or why to pray was an unwelcome reminder of all of that other stuff.
In the last 5 years, I have prayed in fits and starts. I occasionally revolt against routine and find that there is a certain seasonality to my stick-to-itiveness (that may be an oxymoron!). There are particular times when I crave communion with God: Lent, Advent, the beginning of anything – a new semester, a new city, a new job. I don’t think any of that is necessarily bad or wrong, but I also know that my truest self desires more consistency.
I want a relationship with God that is not so easily swayed by my own flighty feelings, my impermanent moods, my own self-obsession. I want a relationship with God that is steady, that is a north star, that is a guiding light. I want a relationship with God that doesn’t trail behind my life, but rather leads it.
In order for that to happen, I have to have a rhythm, a pattern, a schedule. I am an amnesiac for the Divine, and I need markers in the day to remember. Morning Prayer from the Daily Office is the best way I’ve found to consistently mark the days and bring my focus to God.
I don’t yet have a “pray without ceasing” kind of life. It is an ideal to press on towards. The ideal is to remember that there is remedy for my anxiety, anger, and pain. To remember that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me. To remember that both the laws of neuroscience and a multitude of scriptures verify the power of gratitude.
Prayer is a habit I want to wear, and while I would love if it sprang ex nihilo, I have to co-create and cultivate that practice in partnership with God. As Marie Howe wrote, so I say, “Help me.”