Prayer and Gratitude
Regarding prayer, I’ve said before that while I don’t understand prayer, I still do it. And I think that’s true of various elements of the faith, full understanding isn’t a requirement for participation. Whether it’s prayer, or the Lord’s Supper, or forgiveness, we are called to participate even as we still seek to understand better.
I think these two things are connected and rest near the heart of the life of faith, in fact. First, that there is an element of irreducible mystery to our faith that doesn’t require full understanding to be embraced and, second, that we are still beckoned always to understand more fully. Embracing mystery is not a rejection of intellect any more than the limitations of our understanding preclude embracing mystery. All of his was summed up both well and succinctly by St. Anselm of Canterbury in his motto fides quaerens intellectum – “faith seeking understanding.”
And so while I do not need to understand prayer to practice it, yet I keep trying to understand it, not to displace the mystery of prayer but to better embrace it. Along these lines, I found this 5-minute video on “A Good Day” by Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast helpful. It is, in a sense, a guided prayer, and it served for me as something of a meditation on prayer itself.
In particular, I greatly appreciated his emphasis on gratitude. I’ve said many times that I think gratitude is the noblest of emotions. Why? Because in gratitude we both complete and lose ourselves, even if for just a moment. We are, that is, fully alive in that we are caught up in a sense of blessing and yet also are caught up in the realization that that blessing came from beyond us, is not about us, yet was given to us as a gift. All that is left is to give thanks.
What struck me in Brother David’s mediation, however, was the importance of noticing. It’s not, perhaps, that we are not grateful for the blessings of our life, but that we do not take the time to notice them. This reminded me of Annie Dillard’s answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?” — “We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed.” In this way, she writes, we not only witness creation but “abet it,” as noticing itself calls things into being and in this way is a creative act.
Once we’ve noticed, we cannot help but give thanks. And once we’ve given thanks, we are better able to be a blessing to others. And so it continues.
So perhaps this offers a three-part pattern for at least one way to pray: notice, give thanks, bless others. Yeah, I can do that…even if I don’t really understand it.
1) My thanks to Wilma Packard who directed me to Brother David.
2) If you want to learn more about Brother David and his work, you can find more of his work at his website Gratefulness.
3) If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click here to watch the video.