Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

Yoga and prayer ...

Psychotherapist Carl Rogers said, "What is most personal is most universal."

What we think we alone struggle with is often that which most connects us to our neighbor. This can, of course be taken to its narcissistic extreme, meaning I come to believe that whatever I think, feel or experience is exactly what others think, feel or experience. But at its most true, Rogers' words simply mean there is something wildly communal about the human experience. 

Makes me wonder if my questions, my confusions about prayer are possibly yours, as well.

I was pondering prayer this morning during a slow yoga class wherein the bulk of our time is spent holding yoga poses for several minutes, all while focusing on our breathing. Though I was supposed to stay "in the moment" my mind did not seem to find obedience to this task interesting enough, so she wandered just a bit. I found myself holding a pose, breathing deeply and thinking about prayer.

"What are the basics," my mind asked me? "If you could dumb it way down, what would you be left with?"

As I breathed, these are the phrases that came to mind:

Believe - First, I must believe there is a powerful and good Force willing and able to hear my prayers.

Seek - This Force (let's call it God) must be sought. Seek first a relationship, not just an outcome.

Ask - Once there is some sort of relationship, asking for what one wants or needs seems possible. And if God is big and sovereign and good, asking for what one wants or needs seems sane.

Trust - This is where it gets hard.  After I ask, I need to try to trust. Trust that the ask was heard. Trust that the ask was received. Trust that something that looks like an "answer" will be offered.  

Wait and Watch  - I lied. THIS is where it gets hard. God's timing is not my own. God will not be hen-pecked into acting. God will move God's hand in God's good time. My job is to wait and to watch with both patience and anticipation. I am bad at both waiting and watching.

Surrender - I lied again. THIS is where it gets THEE MOST hard. After I ask, after I trust, as I wait and watch, I must also pray the most profound prayer that can be prayed: "Not my will, but Thine." For receiving answers to prayer is not like receiving the groceries you order from the delivery service at Wal-Mart. Not even close. Receiving answers to prayer is more like opening a series of surprise gifts given to you by your friend, spouse or parent who rarely buys you things off your wish-list, but instead picks out exquisite and surprising gifts you didn't even know you needed.

I breathed my way through the rest of the yoga class, repeating these words in this order. My mind found focus. I used these phrases to help myself pray for people, circumstances, seemingly hopeless situations. It helped me remember why I  pray. It helped me remember that it is sane to pray. I helped me remember that asking is the easy part of prayer. And it helped me remember that waiting, watching and surrendering are the real work of a praying soul.

Believe, Seek, Ask, Trust, Wait and Watch, Surrender ...

That was a good yoga class.

Prayer

Do you ever wonder about prayer?

Why do we pray?

How should we pray?

When we pray, what are we hoping for?

Do we have the power to influence God?

Is there a wrong way to pray?

If there is a wrong way, does that mean there is a right way?

I don't ask these questions in order to engage in theological banter. I ask them because people I love are struggling and I often feel helpless. I want to ask God to help them.

And I do! I do ask God to help them.

But often, if I am honest, it feels as if God does not respond to my requests.

Do you ever feel that way?

I have a hunch you do. Some of you come to my office and tell me you do.

So, let's talk about prayer for awhile, shall we?

I'll post my thoughts in the coming days and weeks.

In the meantime, Ole Hallesby's definition of prayer has been saving my life lately.

Hallesby basically says that:

Helplessness + Faith = Prayer

Do you feel helpless about something? (Yes)

Do you have mustard seed-sized faith that Jesus has the power to help? (Yes)

Then, you have all you need for a powerful prayer life.

Take what you feel helpless about and combine it with a modicum of faith ... that's it. That's the secret formula. You almost don't need words. Just a turn of the face toward Jesus with what you feel helpless about in your hands. And you will have set into motion supernatural power beyond your imagination.

Now, there's more to be said, of course.

But let's start here: Helplessness + Faith = Prayer

Amen.

Our hands are full ...

Too often I fill myself with worry about things I cannot control.

I ruminate about what concerns me.

I fret about the future, wondering if I can twist it into a shape pleasing to me.

I cling to anxious thoughts as cheap substitutes for prayer.

St. Augustine (who said some real dumb things about women in his day) said this:

"God wants to give us something but cannot,

because our hands are full - there's nowhere for God to put it."

Augustine's simplistic thought captured me today and made me wonder what God might fill my hands with if I but dropped all that does not satisfy.

Worry, rumination, fretting, anxiety. Why do I clasp them to me as if they have something to offer?

Have they ever provided me with what they promise?

What if I drop them, just for today, and open myself up to the possibility that God just might have something better up his sleeve?

Beauty makes us feel more alive ...

I just took a walk through our neighborhood with my dog, Stella.

The sun is shining in a blue sky. The birds are singing. The crusty, dirt-tinged mounds of snow and ice are gradually melting, revealing trash and brown grass and the once-hidden sidewalks.

I listened to a podcast of an interview of an Irish poet named John O'Donohue and something I heard struck me:

"Beauty," he said, "is that which, when we encounter it, leaves us feeling more alive."

What a thoughtful, lovely definition. What a stark contrast to most definitions of beauty which too often feel shallow and unobtainable and reserved for those who can pay.

As I walked, I asked myself, "What makes you feel alive, Alice?"

The answers were easy: The spring sun on my face. The cool wind in my hair. My old, faithful dog trotting happily next to me. My mom's kind, aging face. My friends' compassion. The pile of books on my chair.

I made a small resolution to seek beauty at every turn, realizing God gifts beauty to us to bring life to our souls. It can be found anywhere. It is never reserved solely for the well-off.

The apostle Paul knew this. He writes to the church at Philippi:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

If you can, get outside sometime this week. It will make you feel more alive. Spring is making its grand entrance. Beauty is everywhere for those who have eyes to see.