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Don't be a stranger

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Sister Mary Navarre, OP

Sister Mary Navarre, OP

Mary Navarre --  Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids

In the movie "Eat, Pray, Love", Elizabeth Gilbert describes her first attempt at prayer something like this: “Hello God, how are you? I’m Liz. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve always been a big fan of your work. . . I’m sorry to bother you so late at night . . . but I’m in serious trouble . . . can you please help me?”  She dissolves into tears as only Julia Roberts can. And so begins her search for her true self, her relationship with God and her journey through Italy, India and Bali to find herself, and to find God, not to mention to find a soul mate, and to author a popular book that is made into a movie! So did God answer Liz’s prayer?

What is prayer and how do you pray? These questions are rather personal and to ask them of another seems intrusive. Nevertheless, we humans have prayed and wondered about prayer since time began for us millennia ago.

If you grew up a Catholic kid in the 1950’s you could answer the question, What is prayer?  “Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God . . . .”  You knew this because you memorized the Baltimore Catechism; and you knew specific prayers by heart. These were always at hand for specific purposes, most often for supplications of one kind or another.

But over the years, another kind of prayer evolves in our hearts; a less formal prayer that is based on a relationship with God, a relationship that makes a difference in our lives. This is the prayer that Liz eventually comes to know in her quest – after she has learned to still her overactive mind and imagination. And it is the prayer Jesus prayed in the desert, in the garden and on the cross. It is prayer built on a loving relationship with God.  

At this time in my own life, prayer is mostly listening. When I was very young, one of my little friends said to me, “Mary I like you, but you talk too much.” With that kind of reputation, I know that it is important for me to be quiet and listen to God as well as the people around me, to listen to my own experience, to traditions, to Scripture, literature, sciences, the arts and to the natural world. This intentional and intensive listening is often the place where I do meet God in prayer - when I take time each day to savor quiet, uninterrupted moments in the morning stillness or in the evening’s twilight. Like Liz, I too have learned to finally be quiet and to listen. And how do I know it is not just my own mind or imagination that I hear? I experience a calm presence, a serene assurance; a surprising insight, an experience of letting go of worry and anxiety, an experience of joy and peace. It’s not a quick fix kind of thing, but rather built on a long term relationship.

When I was growing up, my parents would often say goodbye to friends who left our house after a visit calling out, “Now, don’t be a stranger.” I think it is that way with God. God wants a relationship with us, and that cannot happen very well if we spend no time together – so Liz found her relationship with God when she finally stilled her soul; so may I and so may you. And may it be a time of amazement and delight. 

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