By Barbara Falconer Newhall
“Meditation, sitting in silence, is a prayer of faith. You totally let go of being in charge, which is different from what most prayer is about, because as long as we use words, we are in control. Most of us as Christians have been trained that prayer is talking to God. We feel the responsibility to do something, to be active when we pray, but in meditation, you enter it with the idea that you will let the Spirit transform you. You don’t talk, you listen.”
— Sister Barbara Hazzard, Roman Catholic.
What is prayer anyway? I haven’t a clue. These days, when I go to pray, I often find I haven’t a thing to say to God. Every tradition I’ve come in contact with in all my years as a religion reporter and writer recommends — no, insists upon — prayer. Yet right now I don’t know how to do it. I don’t even know why to do it.
That’s the reason I find this passage from the interview I conducted with Sister Barbara so compelling. (The interview was for the book I’m working on, Wrestlling With God: True Stories of Religion and Spirituality in America.) Sister Barbara has had a lot of experience with prayer. A Benedictine monk, Sister Barbara is the founder of Hesed, an urban, non-resident Benedictine community in Oakland, California, which teaches and practices Christian meditation.
What I’m hearing when I reread these words of hers is that there are many ways to approach — to be open to? — the sacred.
I meet twice a month with a small group that calls itself EFM Lite. Most of us are graduates of a program called Education for Ministry, or EFM, which is a four-year Christian theological education-at-a-distance program, involving mostly lay people, sponsored by the School of Theology at the University of the South.
Our group has been reading Kathleen Norris’ book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith this past year. Now we’re ready to move on — to the topic of prayer. Each of us will lead an evening’s exploration of some sort of prayer (prayer in the very broadest sense of the word), and provide a short reading for the group to read ahead of time.
I don’t know where to start. Help! I need suggestions and resources. What is prayer anyway? Why do it? And how do you pray — with words, or like Sister Barbara, without words?