with open hands

Posted on November 19, 2008


open hands

Today, Thursday, May 1, is National Day of Prayer.

Do you ever really think about prayer? When I do, it seems a rather selfish ritual that focuses on getting my needs and wants met. Or it is a ritual to appease our god?

But when Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”, I begin to wonder if prayer is something completely different; more akin to an all-encompassing life of contemplation or meditation. It seems to me that not only does prayer consist of praising God, giving thanks, and asking for help, but that these are only the tiny tip of an iceberg that is rarely explored in American Christianity today. Could it be that prayer is a mind set? A radical approach to life? The root meaning of radical is “root”. Could it be an approach to life that roots us and grounds us minute by minute to the source and meaning of our life? Could it be with this connection, with this grounding, all worry and anxiety fades?

Could it be prayer is much, much bigger than American Christianity lets on . . . much less safe . . . much less comfortable? Could it have meaning way, way beyond praise and petition? Could it be the SILENCE that overtakes your soul standing at the edge of the ocean or mountains or forests? Could it be the COMPASSION that overcomes my soul as I gaze upon a throng of people? Could it be the PASSION of the saints? Could it be the DRIVE of the martyrs? Could it be the FIRE that blazes a path of justice and love through the bullshit of American culture with relentless voices and actions of the prophets, poets, and ordinary people of the age that refuse to accept the status quo, the injustice, the inequity embedded in our land? Could it be living uncompromisingly with open hands?

“With Open Hands”

“To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God’s promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor and your world. In prayer, you encounter God not only in the small voice and the soft breeze, but also in the midst of the turmoil of the world, in the distress and joy of your neighbor and in the loneliness of your own heart.

“Prayer leads you to see new paths and to hear new melodies in the air. Prayer is the breath of your life which gives you freedom to go and to stay where you wish and to find the many signs which point out the way to a new land. Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive.

“In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands where we are not ashamed of our weakness but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by the Other than to try to hold everything in our own hands.

“Only within this kind of life does a spoken prayer make sense. A prayer in church, at table or in school is only a witness to what we want to make of our entire lives. Such a prayer reminds us that praying is living and it invites us to make this an ever-greater reality. Thus, there are as many ways to pray as there are moments in life. Sometimes we seek out a quiet spot and want to be alone, sometimes we look for a friend and want to be together. Sometimes we like a book, sometimes we prefer music. Sometimes we want to sing out with hundreds, sometimes only whisper with a few. Sometimes we want to say it with words, sometimes with a deep silence.

“In all these moments, we gradually make our lives more of a prayer and we open our hands to be led by God even to places we would rather not go.”

(Henri Nouwen, “With Open Hands”, pp127-132)