How to Pray

Hello, friends, and welcome back. I’m the Rev. Sare Liz Anuszkiewicz and this is the Sunday Sermon. If you’re looking for the bits of the bible I’ve referenced in this sermon, you can find the link right here. I also reference some notes in the sermon that I took several years ago – this is actually a blogpost on that you can find here. For the nerds in the know, this is Proper 24, Year C, Track two, and here’s the sermon I preached on Sunday, October 16, 2022.

The audio-only of the sermon you can find here.

Good morning! Today I want to talk about prayer, because that’s what the beautiful story from the Gospel of Luke is all about, and it says it right at the beginning: we need to pray always, and not lose heart, or get disappointed when we don’t get what we want right away.

One of the traditional ways of teaching about prayer in our church is to teach the four different kinds of prayer – and we could summarize those four ways with the words please, thanks, wow, and this is horrible. So that would be prayers of intercession, when we’re asking for something, prayers of thanksgiving when we’re grateful for something, prayers of praise when we’re just amazed at how awesome God is, and prayers of lamentation, when we are stuck in the mire of our life and we can’t see a way out, and we just want to cry. 

So, those are the four traditional types of prayer, but there are things that are missing. Contemplative prayer, for instance. Now, Christian Contemplative Prayer is, essentially, the Christian version of silent meditation. While sitting – or standing, or walking – you intentionally empty the mind in order to just quietly be with God. Not asking for anything. Not saying thank you. Not commenting on how beautiful the sunset is, or how horrible your life is, just being with the quiet stillness.

And still other people report that they pray while they do something. While they wash the dishes. Go for a run. Knit a blanket. Help someone. That the action itself, devoid of thought, is prayer. In fact, in his slim volume, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence describes how much he loathed kitchen duty in his monastery and how he turned it into a peaceful act of prayer, because it was that or lose his mind.

As I looked back on notes I’d taken on the subject of prayer some years ago, I also came upon this idea I’d had at the time: Prayer is your intentional, conscious participation in the ongoing conversation your soul has been having with God in your mind’s absence. 

Let me say that again.

Prayer is your intentional, conscious participation in the ongoing conversation your soul has been having with God in your mind’s absence. 

The idea here is that when we pray, we’re not starting something new. We’re not starting from the ground up with God. The idea is that all along in our life whether we were aware of it or not, our soul has already been in constant communication with God, and it’s been good. Our souls have never been without God, and God has never been out of contact, close contact with us.

Eh, but our minds? Our minds have been faffing off, worrying about the future and being angry and sad about the past, reliving nightmares, running away from pain and responsibility. Our minds have been busy being busy, having emotions and dealing with the requirements of this world.

And so when we pray, our minds are dipping into the well of calmness, the stream of peace and love that has been flowing all the time between God and our souls, and back to God again.

And you know, everything can be prayer. And nothing can be prayer. And by that I mean that when you focus your mind, allow it to be quiet and clear, everything you then do is prayer, everything you do helps you to dip down into that well of calmness and stream of peace. Going to church, doing the dishes, going for a run, talking with people, knitting a blanket, playing soccer, walking in nature, practicing the martial arts, doing gymnastics, studying, doing administration, teaching, helping, preaching.

And if you don’t focus your mind, if you allow yourself to remain scattered and full of busyness, then nothing you do is prayer, not even if you read actual prayers aloud, not even if you are serving the marginalized, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, housing the refugee, not even if you are sitting in meditation, not even if you are preaching.

Because everything you do can be prayer. And everything you do can also fail to be prayer. It’s all about the mindset we bring to it.


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