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