When Jesus went up the mountain to pray at night, was it in silence, or did he speak words openly? When the Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, and the Apostles fell asleep on him, not “watching” with him, did he speak words openly on this fateful night of his arrest, or did he pray in total silence, contradicting the loudness of “Crucify him!” the following day?
Prayer is the salt of the Christian. It favors our lives, as well as having many flavors. There are many different forms of prayer, a few of them informal.
There’s what the newly canonized St. John Henry Newman calls form prayer: reading and praying words on a page open before us. Organized prayer. All clergy do this every day of every year in the morning and evening, better known as Lauds and Vespers. At least we’re supposed to, making the promise to do so at our Diaconate ordination before priesthood.
There’s the prayer of praying with the Scriptures, reading God’s word, and allowing it to speak to us in ways that lead to a more solid, lasting relationship with Christ Jesus. In the words of the Patristic Church Father, St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” It’s why we listen to God’s word at every liturgical celebration, and why we should read it at home every day; so we are not ignorant of our Savior. Reading Scripture is a most beautiful way to pray.
There’s what I call the “prayer of grunting; the prayer of deep breath alone; the prayer of exasperation; the prayer of rolling our eyes at God, which he can clearly see; the prayer of no discernable words, but only sounds that only humans can make. The prayer of sighing and the prayer of “when am I going to catch a break?” This is one of my personal favorites; the prayer that speaks no words, held in the deepness of our hearts, that God can read and hear with perfect clarity. It’s the prayer where God actually writes the sentence, because we cannot speak it.
And there’s the spontaneous prayer. the Evangelicals like this one; so do the charismatics in the Catholic Church, as well as the Quakers and Shakers. There’s no written text; without the Good Book; just take a deep breath and let the Spirit blow where it wills.
In our readings this Sunday, we’re offered for our benefit a few forms of prayer. In the 1st reading where Joshua mows down Amalek – one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament – we’re given this visual of Moses with hands raised during the battle. When his hands are raised, Joshua and the Israelites get the better of the fight. When the hands of the one who carried down the 10 Commandments from Mt. Sinai grow tired and weary, the Israelites are pushed back by Amalek the adversary.
What we see here in this reading is that there are no rules to this prayer. We can even cheat a little. Such as having Aaron and Hur hold up your hands when they grow weary. Here, the understanding of prayer is twofold: first, that the Israelites pray, and Amalek does not. That’s a recipe for disaster for Amalek, as well as all of us. If we fail to incorporate daily prayer into our lives, then eventually we will be mowed down by Amalek, the adversary. We will die in body and spirit. And second, cheat little if you have to. Pray in your car. But don’t read the Scriptures while you’re driving. But praying a decade of the Rosary is possible. Cheat a little with prayer in places that are out of the ordinary. It has great benefits.
And the prayer that comes from Paul to Timothy is called the prayer of remaining faithful. To what we have learned and believed. This is simply the prayer that is ever faithful to our Christian nature. We don’t pray for violence; or revenge; we avoid the type of prayer that seeks to do damage to another. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. I will repay.” Where repayment is due, God is the just Judge.
The prayer of remaining faithful to what we have learned and believed is our search for unity, while not watering down or compromising our faith. Such as when life begins, or the Sacrament of Matrimony.
And the prayer Jesus addresses in the Gospel parable is the prayer of not becoming weary. Which is an ever-present danger. The parable our Lord shares with us disciples seeks to render a just decision against an adversary. The widow wants justice. For what we don’t know. What we do know is that whatever is bugging her, she isn’t going to stop pestering the judge until he arrives at her answer. She’s already written the answer for her case, just as Jesus has already written the answer for our case through his Cross. It’s the widow’s stamina that will wear down this judge who fears no one, except one widow.
The prayer marvel in this parable is the energy and persistence of the widow to go up against a heavyweight and knock him out. She knows the judge is the only one who can bring about the verdict she wants against her adversary. And she’s going to bother him until she gets it.
How brave are we in our prayer? How bold can we be? Are we one and done with prayer? Or, are we bold and persistent over time? Do we have the spiritual energy over years, like St. Monica praying for the conversion of her son St. Augustine for 30 years? The energy and determination to overcome the adversaries of this world through the power of prayer to God?
Prayer is the salt of the Christian. There are many forms of prayer we can attend to. But first, be open to praying, like Moses, Timothy, and, yes, even the widow in her bothersome requests. Have hearts that seek communion with God, the just Judge.