Living the Questions

Fifth Friday

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”            — Rainer Maria Rilke

“Isn’t it just a mystery,” my friend was saying last week, “how God hears all the prayers of all people, all over the world, all the time?” I agree. It’s beyond imagining for me. I can barely multitask two things at once. Somehow from all corners of the earth, from places of extreme brokenness and poverty, in bloodshed and disease, God hears all our hearts and our cries. Somehow it’s possible for him to know our pain and be present to all people, even if they’re all talking at once. That’s overwhelming for an introvert like me. As a quiet person, I’m drawn to the verse from Isaiah that says he knows our needs before we speak and answers while we are still speaking. It’s especially comforting when I can’t find words, or don’t know what to pray for those around me. It’s a relief to think I don’t need words, I can just come. Since I’ve been practicing centering prayer, I feel more and more often that God gives me what to pray for others, rather than what I would’ve come up with on my own. It’s dawned on me recently that what I’m doing when I pray contemplatively for others is I’m bringing them into his presence — into the arms of Love. When I remember that he loves them even more than I do, it’s less important that I pray the right thing, or even know what to pray. He knows.

I can get discouraged when praying for others if I pray for awhile and don’t see results. I have people and situations I’ve prayed over for years, and some of those have not yet been answered. I don’t pretend to understand this, but there is a lot for me in the little word “yet.” I’m reminded more and more often that my time on this earth is so brief. In looking at prayers I see as unanswered, I get to trust in God’s goodness, whether I get to see it in the way I’m asking or not. It’s my way of “living the questions,” as Rilke wrote.

Sometimes too I forget that the process of ongoing prayer – within me, anyway – is as important as the thing I’m praying for. It increases my patience, a gift I wasn’t born with. It offers me humility, to accept the life God gives me as it is. It teaches me perseverance, to get up and begin again, for today is a new day. It keeps my heart for others tender, as I allow their pain to enter my prayers. It motivates me to reconnect with Christ, to search for his will for them, not my own. It gives me a chance to practice faith. I know the most difficult questions are not resolved in an instant. My faithfulness in prayer is then all the more important. I can trust the God of Love to answer.  Meanwhile, I’ll ride out the questions.

Today’s prayer practice: God’s presence within the questions

As you enter your prayer time, think about a visual you can bring to represent persons you pray for. Perhaps it’s a stone you can write their name on, or a leaf, or a candle you light as you say their name. As you quiet yourself, meditate on the following verse from Isaiah in a modern translation: “I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!” Isaiah 65:24.   Read the verse slowly several times as God’s message to you. Listen for his guidance in how to pray for these you love. Hold the questions in your heart with patience. Thank him for the gifts of life and living you hold in this moment.

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