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The Episcopal Church of St. John Baptist 200 Main St., Thomaston, Maine 04861
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Prayer Takes Time
By the Rev. Peter Jenks
It takes about twenty seconds to say the Lord’s Prayer. In many places it is expected that a Sunday service be approximately one hour, weddings no more the 45 minutes. There is always a time element to saying one’s prayers. Whether it be the few minutes before one goes to sleep, or the sporadic petitions we make throughout the day, or the extended prayers one holds onto in the waiting room outside a surgical unit. Generally, though, we think of praying as a set and often short piece of time; a grace before a meal, a prayer before one leaves a friend in a hospital, a blessing or a thought offered to God in response to a need or longing.
But to wade deeper into the realm of prayer, one needs to take time. Prayer takes time. To move beyond the platitude of a politician offering “thoughts and prayers”; to engage in a relationship with God that is not simply asking for God to keep us safe, healthy and of sound finances in our current habits; to commit oneself to the deeper benefits of prayer, one needs to take time. Like sleep, it is one thing to fall asleep, but the extended time of sleep is what rejuvenates our body.
It takes time in prayer to move beyond our hardships, handicaps and problems and to see them as the source of our strength. It takes time in prayer to move us from our wounds, hurts and humiliations and to see those experiences as the seed for healing, strength and wholeness. It takes time in prayer to let go of our worry and anxiety and to enter into a land of trust and confidence in the grace of God’s timing. It takes time in prayer to let go, and then to let go again, and after we take back what we let go of, to let it go again, trusting God with what we cannot manage anymore.
It takes time and innumerable repetitions to not only know the words to our prayers, but to have our lives become a part of the prayers and the prayers to become a part of our lives. A mother will spend hours of time watching her child, noticing the changes in a child’s life, and in doing so becomes the familiar and foundation for the child, and the child woven into the fabric of the mother.
We often will take more time watching or reading the news than taking time to delve into the vast ocean of prayer. And, yet, the turmoil of our culture and news are often like a riptide carrying us away in emotional distress. The strength and effort of prayer is to not fight the riptide, but swim across it, focusing on the actions of the holy and not the flashy secular headline. Taking time in prayer is a slow process that trains us and eventually changes us. Like the desire to lose weight, a quick diet might lose some pounds quickly, but a change in diet and lifestyle will take time.
To take the time to pray is to establish a bond, a sense of home and a belonging to who we are and from where we come. The continued familiarity of the words, breath, and spiritual awareness creates a familiar experience with the world in a new way. And in this new familiarity we slowly find changes occurring without our immediate awareness of them. Extended time in prayer moves us beyond lists of petition toward deep thanksgiving; above the wonder of thanksgiving to the awe of worship; and through the majesty of worship to a unity of purpose of which the very power of life and light is ignited. Prayer takes time, from the simple twenty seconds of a single prayer to the extended and cumulative breathing in and out of life every day. To become conscious of our time in prayer, of our journey and stories that have emerged through prayer, and of the effects of prayer on us is to become conscious of the subtle movements of life.
As I age, it is evident that time is accelerating at a more rapid rate. Yet, as I age in prayer, I find that time slows and I become more connected to the past, present and future. It is in the time of prayer that I slowly move to the place where there is no more time at all, the point where all time is captured, just as the living, the dead, and those yet to be born are all found together. Space and the ocean depths are seen as the final frontiers of exploration. I would propose that to explore any frontier left unspoiled we need to travel to and through it in prayer to discover the true treasures hidden therein. And at that place we can utter our eternal, Amen.