Prayer is the longing of the human heart for God. It is a yearning and desire for relationship with God, and it is God’s attention to our desire: God-in-communion with us. We long for God because we are created by God, and this longing is the source of our hope in God. Prayer is an awakening to the fact that the fulfillment, the culmination of my life lies in God alone. And so, we gather together and pray together in communion, each of us with our personal separateness—but all of us wanting the same basic thing: to belong to God, to return to God.
In mass, which is the source and summit of our communal prayer, we have the opportunity to connect with God and each other, too—if we can get out of the Spirit’s way. It takes practice to be focused and alert to God’s presence during the mass—it is so easy to be distracted—you’ve probably heard or thought all of these things (I am sure) at one time or another: listen to that crying baby, why doesn’t the parent do something about the noise? Some (blank) left their cell phone on. I have to stop at the store on the way home and pick up this for that. I don’t like this hymn. I’m hungry, or thirsty or tired or bored. I should go to the bathroom… I know these things have wandered through my mind at times, and I am sure I am not the only one… Authentic prayer though, is opening to God’s gracious presence with all that we are, and with what Scripture summarizes as our whole heart, soul, body and mind. Therefore, prayer is more a way of being than an isolated act of doing.
Can you imagine a room filled with people all together and in the same moment alert to God’s presence among us? I think of the synergy of a moment like that! Synergy is the “interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” In other words, there is a power that can be created that adds up to more than the individual pieces present. I like to think of us at mass that way: singing, speaking, praying, moving together as one—in communion with God and each other.
In prayer it is possible to experience that quality of relationship with God together or apart—and it’s the place of ultimate freedom where we can be our true selves. God delights in His creation and loves each of us with a personal love, and all of us in communal love. Prayer is God’s desire to breathe in us, to be the spirit of our lives, to draw us into the fullness of life. When we pray together, we breathe in God together—focusing our awareness in the moment of here and now, joined to the angels in heaven in one exultant chorus—just listen carefully to the Eucharistic Prayer! In praying together we may recognize God’s presence within us and within those around us.
Lent gives us a wonderful occasion to step back and evaluate our place, to spend time in prayer and worship apart or together. Now may be the acceptable time for us to begin this conversion process—or to continue it. Prayer, like anything and everything else, needs practice. Lent is an opportune time to cultivate the ability to pay attention to our souls, apart or together. Here is another true saying: God works through all things for good. I offer here another breath prayer practice for Lent: “God, Father, kind and merciful, help me pay attention to You in this place with those other souls around me.”
Keep praying! Keep breathing! Keep singing!
Just a note: An inspiring song about the church praying together and changing the world….