Prayer is activity within a life of faith. It is the response to the invitation from the Holy Three in One to be as one in Christ. It is part of a restorative process initiated by God and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is, as the monastic and spiritual English writer Benedicata Ward suggests, a “pilgrimage of the heart,” in her book with the same title.
In the Gospels we meet Mary in the midst of her life pilgrimage, greeted by the angel of the Lord. Joseph, too, in a separate encounter. And, what about those shepherds in their predictable routine out in the countryside? They, too, are encouraged by God’s helpers to leave their work to see the new thing that God is accomplishing. Beyond the locals, consider those foreigners. Mysterious, cultic astrologers from the other end of the civilized world travel at an inconvenient time of the year across nothing better than fierce landscapes. They place themselves in mortal danger because of God’s leading. They arrive equipped with little more than a few extravagant gifts and a God-inspired desire to greet the one who comes to bring God’s other humanly loving justice and inclusion to even the outermost places.
It is not hard to imagine that all who God summons to the manger are surprised to not stay in that place of awe and wonder. They are further summoned to carry forward the good news of God’s grafting of humanity borne out of God’s desire for the renewal and restoration of all things to God’s self. The foreigners and the Holy Family, alike, reroute themselves to carry forth while avoiding the death threats of Herod. Settling in Nazareth with his family, Jesus goes on to wander from place to place ministering in surprising places tending to people and places no one else would touch.
Similarly, a pilgrim goes from encounters with refreshingly fertile, fiercely rugged and uncomfortably arid landscapes before the destination is reached. Prayer can be this way, too. It might become discouraging to be put off by those who suggest that prayer is a waste of time, merely pure flight or fantasy, especially during a dry period. But, when we persevere we eventually find our way to places of refreshment once more. It is then that we may especially notice that prayer is not frivolous, esoteric or passive as our critics suggest.
Reflecting on the distance travelled in the gift of your own life pilgrimage. Ask God for the sight to see those places from the jagged to the plain that you travelled together. Give thanks. Continuing forth from where you are today, in a spirit of activity that includes a pilgrim’s heart of prayer. See the companionship of the Triune God at work with each step. Even in the darkest or driest places, trust that your pilgrimage remains in the company of God. Continue in your active prayer life. Live in God’s judgment of love and the process of restoration that has come and will continue to unfold with every step.
© Douglas A. Beck, 2017