Time was when I wasn’t able to pray. I got confused between the imperfect institution of the church and the divine presence I experienced when I played music or felt/heard a paintbrush move across paper, smelled the vinegar-ish scent of white oak sawed, beheld the complex beauty of a person. I thought for the longest time when I prayed I was praying to an institution that may or may not have had my best interest at heart.
I have a mystical bent. I’ve had direct experiences of the divine – not especially special experiences – no burning bushes for me. A word/intuition was formed in my understanding that helped me know I count, have purpose born of spiritual gifts, though promised to us all, particular to me because of who I am and what I know/feel. But those spiritual experiences and the prayers/breaths I longed for didn’t necessarily match formal prayers I’d been taught or knew how to say.
I had a spiritual director who encouraged me to explore beyond the formal words of the church, and so I did. In that terrible/glorious time of experimentation, a spiritual space inside me opened, widened, deepened. That space is not always available to me – when I’m ashamed it closes like a trap. When I’m tired or anxious, I forget there is that space in me. And so I practice remembering to pray.
A great joy of this experimentation is I have found the prayers I learned to say in church turned out to be multivalent. Once I began to explore the space of prayer in me, I discovered no words actually describe that space and the experiences of comfort, trust, willingness to be present even if it scared me. I began to understand the formal words we say in church are metaphors, attempts, and discipline for the sweet work of exploring Divine presence. I stopped needing the words of the church to be one-dimensional and literal. I have now allowed the words of the church remind me of Divine presence, to remind me of my longing for that space.
I believe this is what we are doing in church together, beloved. Movement toward the heart of God compels us to be Love together, for the sake of the world’s repair.