What Laywers, Parents, and Carpenters Have in Common

I had planned to write a post for today about ways to pray other than naked. (If you missed Stacey’s guest posts on praying naked this week, you can read them here and here along with my introduction.) But I got caught watching a video of Eugene Peterson’s recent talk “Practicing Sabbath” at Q with Dave Lyons, and I couldn’t get this excerpt out of my mind.

Nothing happens when you pray, you think. There’s nothing in prayer that gives you any satisfaction in terms of having accomplished anything. So learning to pray is learning to not do in the awareness that God is doing something and you don’t know what it is at that moment.

When people ask me how to pray, sometimes I’m tempted to tell them what I do that first hour in the morning [here he is referring to his daily devotional time of reading scripture and praying the Psalms], which I’ve done since I was 15. But I realized at one point, that’s not so. When I leave my study, close my Bible, that’s when I’m praying.

I pray all day. Prayer now is something that suffuses my life. Most of the time when I’m praying I don’t know I’m praying. Later on I realize I have been. But to get to think about prayer in a little more comprehensive way as the interior life that the Holy Spirit is breathing in us every time we take a breath suddenly changes prayer from being a practice like you practice the piano to being a practice like you practice being a lawyer or practice being a parent or practice being a carpenter. You’re doing it when you don’t know you’re doing it.

Don’t you love it when you’re around a really skilled craftsperson? They just do it beautifully and economically and you realize: that man is carving something, and he doesn’t even know he’s carving. He doesn’t think: “I’m carving. Isn’t this wonderful? I’m carving!”

My goal–and the witness of a lot of people I’ve read through the centuries–is not to pray in such a way that you’re conscious of praying but to live a life suffused by prayer so that your life becomes a prayer. But that’s not the kind of thing you can write a book about. It’s only a thing you can live and see other people live.

If “play” and “pray” don’t work together, both are diminished. That’s why both are necessary.  Otherwise, they become duties that you have to perform.

Whether you pray by getting naked, going for a hike, reading scripture, interceding for others, contemplating or meditating, or any of the many, many other ways to pray–let prayer suffuse your life so that you experience the inspiration [read: breath] of the Holy Spirit with every breath.

How do you pray? Share your experience in the comment box below.

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on March 8, 2012, in Physicality, Spiritual Practices, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Laura, love this quote from you post:
    Nothing happens when you pray, you think. There’s nothing in prayer that gives you any satisfaction in terms of having accomplished anything. So learning to pray is learning to not do in the awareness that God is doing something and you don’t know what it is at that moment.

    So so true. I do a lot of silent, wordless praying and so I relate to this. It reminds me of some things I read in Thomas Keating. Thanks for blogging! Heather

    • Laura Cavanaugh

      Aw, I love Thomas Keating. I learned so much about centering prayer from him. Amazing that a Trappist monk and Presbyterian minister can come to the same conclusions about what prayer looks like, isn’t it? Thanks for reading, Heather! – Laura

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