Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Praying

Attention:  I have two blogs today.  After rushing through the first one I thought of this other one.  So you get a bonus today.

There's been a minor hub-bub at Duke University over letting the Muslim students have the call to prayer broadcast over the school loud speakers.  First, the school said Yes then the school said No after some influential big folks were horrified over Muslims getting a reminder to pray.  So somebody put up some signs at the Duke Chapel welcoming prayers and played the Muslim call to prayer on a boom box.

I have no problem with Muslims praying on a regular basis. I wish a lot more of them would try it, especially the ones who want to blow us up.  I'm not sure what they're reading but experts say it's not the Koran.

And I, for one, welcome reminders to prayer.  I need all the reminders I can get my hands on--memory being the elusive things it is lately.

I am always trying to improve my prayer life. I found a technique called "Praying the Hours." Praying the Hours is also sometimes called “praying the office” which I never could understand-- if it doesn’t involve a stapler or paper clips it doesn’t really seem much like an office to me.  Whatever you call it, it's one of the basic tools of a spiritual practice.  And the word “practice” means just that: doing something over and over so you can do it better each time. Over and over so it comes naturally to you, like piano practice. Over and over so you remember to do it or so that you do it without even thinking about it.  Over and over so that it becomes an integral part of your life.

Catholics who pray the office pause seven times a day to pray.  Sister Macrina Wiederkehr calls them Seven Sacred Pauses.  The seven times are midnight, dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening and night.  As Sister Macrina calls them, “those times of the day that the earth’s turning offers us.” The spiritual practices go back to a time before clocks and watches.

But terms like “evening” and “night” seemed sort of willy-nilly and haphazard to me. For goodness sakes if you’re going to do this by times then set some times.  Who knows evening from night? This is the 21st century now and we have clocks so let's set some specific times.  So for MY prayer time I assigned seven regular times and spaced them three hours apart:  6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm and midnight.

I almost immediately crossed the 6 a.m. and midnight prayers off the list.  God doesn't want to hear what I have to say at 6 a.m. or midnight.

I set about to have my cell phone alarm go off at the times I had chosen.  But I never mastered the alarm feature on my phone and only succeeded in having my prayer alarm go off in the middle of church.

Somewhere I heard that Muslims pray five times just like I intended to.  Like the Catholic's office, however, they still pray by those nebulous times: morning, noon, afternoon, sunset, evening.  BUT what they came up with that nobody else has is an app for your phone to remind you when it's time to pray. And that’s how I ended up with a phone app for the Muslim prayer times.  It not only tells you the times to pray, it adjusts the times for the changing sunrise and set.  This was starting to look like my sort of plan.  The app can also point you to Mecca using the GPS feature in the phone. Not only will you know when to pray but you’ll know what direction.

Hey, if the Catholics or Presbyterians would just invent a phone app for prayer I wouldn’t have to do these things.

However, this caused another problem:  How to explain why my Presbyterian little self was praying according to Muslim prayer habits.  

I also discovered another tiny problem.  I realized I had spent over a month in a quest to alert me when to pray but I had not so far done any actual praying.  I got so caught up in researching recipes for the icing that I forgot to bake the cake.

Then I thought of another trick that seemed to solve both problems.  I could use hot flashes to alert me. Say what you want about hot flashes but they don’t make a noise.  I am the only one who knows “my internal alarm” has gone off.  I normally get about four or five a day and they started to look like a handy accoutrement to alert me that it was time to pray.  I’m brilliant this way sometimes.

The hot flashes are also a great way to remind me to actually pray, to remember how thankful I am that I have lived this long. That, even though my body changes with the years it is still a body that works, that does what it is supposed to do at this time of my life. Annoying as they are, it still beats the alternative.

I was on a roll here.  Could there be other reminders that close? Then it came to me: I could pray every time I took a breath.

I have been breathing on a regular basis since I was born. It's a little habit I have. I don’t need to set an alarm to remind me to do it. It doesn’t even require batteries. Some breaths are bigger and deeper than others, with some shallow and done without thought.  I decided to use those big ones to remind myself to pray. And to breathe deeply more often.

I remembered the Michael W. Smith song:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your Holy Presence living in me

I practiced taking great scoops of air and noticing how much empty space there is between my nostrils and my lungs.  Compared to how crowded my torso gets with heart, liver and kidneys all bunched up together, there appears to be an enormous empty cavity in my head.  Especially at the roof of my mouth going up to my sinuses, bouncing off the back of my throat and careening down to my lungs.  In the scheme of my body it is almost Grand Canyon-like cavernous.  You could store large objects there if it wouldn’t obstruct the flow of air and strangle you.  How do you measure air?  There’s room for lots and lots of it in these empty spaces.

I started imagining how big God is and how much God I take in with every breath.  I could take in a huge breath and think of that capacity as a temporary residence for God.  Inhale God.  Exhale God. Upon exhale, making room for another scoop of fresh God.  Over and over.  And over and over.  Not “hyper-ventilating” over and over.  “Eternal” over and over.  Well, “eternal” as long as the breathing lasts, as long as my physical body works.  Until the last breath I take.

Then, when my last breath is spent, God will have no more use for this temporary home.  And God will move on.  Leaving the empty shell for my children to dispose of in a hopefully respectful way.

Where will God go?  Only God knows.  In the meantime I celebrate my Roommate. My very large, revitalizing, refreshing, empowering, reassuring Roommate.

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