What Do You See When You Pray?
When it comes to personal prayer, eyes closed is the American norm.
That's what you see if you cheat and look around during most
corporate prayer settings, in church or in other places for that
matter – eyes closed, head bowed.
There's nothing in the Bible that commends shutting out the world
that way, except perhaps the "prayer closet" suggestion Jesus gives
his followers, though that seems to be more aimed at avoiding the
gaze of others than closing off your own. Don't go out where you can
get people to see you and congratulate you as your primary prayer
practice, Jesus reminds us.
But closed eyes is what we're used to, and we like what we're used
to. Except then you have to wrestle with the question, what do I see?
Living in a highly visual culture, the fact is that most of us still
"see" something when we close our eyes. We're all Steven Spielbergs
within our heads, shooting a story and layering in the special
effects from our well fertilized imaginations.
So then the spiritual discipline question is: with images, or
without? Some Eastern Orthodox spiritual practices quite specifically
call on us to "empty" our minds, and clear out all ideas and pictures
while focusing on God; other traditions of the Christian faith
suggest a specific image, and working on keeping that central in our
During the closing portions of the Gospel Celebration, in a final
prayer together, I asked everyone gathered there to join me in
imagining a desk and a chair, two chairs, and the occupants of those
two chairs in prayer together. To me, that is a central image of what
the "Coalition of Care" is about, the time spent for two people to
hear each others' stories and pray together for discernment and
wisdom and guidance.
What's been in my prayers since then, though, is an image of just one
person, in a chair at home, trying to offer up wordless prayers
through anguish and pain. It's the prayer of a mother, or a father,
or whatever the individual, who is trying to muster the courage, or
maybe the humility, or just to set aside their pride while stumbling
on the awkward, painful embarrassment of having to go somewhere and
sit down and say "I need help."
That's the point where we all can only call on grace, God's grace, to
help move that hurting person. We can't help most folk until they
come in, but that moment of decision to come in – those moments of
choice, to leave the chair, get in the car or walk down the street,
to go through the door, to wait, even a short time, to sit down with
the Coalition counselor . . . at any one of those moments, they could
decide to say "No" and head back into the dark security of despair.
We need to pray for those people, those moments, that grace, so that
those who need to open their eyes and pray their way into a
conference with the Coalition will find that strength, walk in that
hope, and sit in confidence that asking for aid is what God blesses
them to do.