More than a set of actions, prayer is a state of being.

One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple. ~ Ps 27:4

What have you sought? What have you loved? To answer these two direct and deceptively simple questions at the end of every day in the few minutes of prayer that we carve out before bed is to be honest about the animating priorities of our lives. This day, have we pursued personal ambition at the expense of a broader public good? Have we loved those who are useful to us and turned away from the needy? Have we forgotten God throughout the day, failing to seek his presence in the random moments of the day, for example, petitioning for patience as we deal with a recalcitrant child, or giving thanks for the driver who motioned us into the line of traffic?


With the demands on our time proliferating—those daily distractions that the late American poet Denise Levertov called “my courtiers, wearing/ their colored clothes; caps and bells”—plucking a few slender threads of time out of the day for prayer may seem impractical. In that sense, the psalmist’s fervent desire to dwell with God is salutary.

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Here is the heart of prayer: this single-minded desire to be in the presence of one who loves us. Note the emphasis on the verb “be.” More than a set of actions, prayer is a state of being. It will eventually entail action, but in itself is not premised on action. It is simply a rejoicing in the loveliness of the LORD that allows us to be trusting, open and confident.

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God of peace, instill in me the unswerving desire to seek and to love you above all. Amen.

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Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill is an author, lecturer and Biblical scholar. She is the co-author, with Joseph Papp, of Shakespeare Alive! (Bantam Books), and is a contributor to Commonweal and America.

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Jim MacGregor
1 year 10 months ago
Lovely post. Thank you. There seem to be at least three major obstacles to prayer. The first is when we think that we are not ready, in the right mind or disposition, to pray. Let’s wait until we are ready or have accomplished some task. A second is perhaps distraction by actual difficulties in our lives and trying to find the solutions on our own. Another is an erroneous feeling of unworthiness. (There may be more.) Perhaps the basic cause of our weakness in prayer relates to how we view God. We may have no genuine awe for the One “who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth” (Isaiah 51:13). I, it is I who comfort you. Can you then fear mortals who die, human beings who are just grass, and forget the LORD, your maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of earth? All the day you are in constant dread of the fury of the oppressor when he prepares himself to destroy; but where is the oppressor’s fury? The captives shall soon be released; they shall not die and go down into the pit, nor shall they want for bread. For I am the LORD, your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the LORD of hosts by name. I have put my words into your mouth, I covered you, shielded by my hand, Stretching out the heavens, laying the foundations of the earth, saying to Zion: You are my people. Wake up, wake up! Arise, Jerusalem, You who drank at the LORD’s hand the cup of his wrath; who drained to the dregs the bowl of staggering. She has no one to guide her of all the children she bore; She has no one to take her by the hand, of all the children she reared! (Isaiah 51:12-18/USCCB Bible)


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