Praying the Details
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.
I tend to think of God as a big-picture being. By this I mean to say that God is unfathomably expansive, inclusive, and larger-than-life. Such a God would not get bogged down in the minutia of our lives. If God is keeping planets in their orbits, there is certainly no time to attend to my latest facial blemish or the mixed message I may have received from an acquaintance the other day. Like many of us, I grew up believing that God was big and I was small. Praying for a good grade on a test I had not prepared adequately for was much too trivial an issue to trouble God about.
As I grow older, I continue to believe God is focused on the big picture. I also believe, however, that God is focused on the minutia. If God truly lives in and acts through us, and since the small details of our lives demand a large portion of our attention and resources, then it stands to reason that God attends to every small detail along with us. My teacher and mentor, Fr. Richard Rohr, says that God loves things by becoming them. To the extent that is true, the more we know and understand something in its richest detail, the more we can know and understand about God. Not that everything around us is God, but that God exists in the details of everything around us.
We see this playing out in our relationships with others. We cannot really know a person until we know details about their life and being. Ironically, the more we know about someone, the more difficult it becomes to describe them accurately to others. It is easy to dismiss a homeless person on the street when we keep our distance from him or her. It is much more difficult to ignore their plight when we take a few minutes to visit with them, listening to their story, and learning some of the details of their existence. If we dare to look in their eyes, we may experience a soulful tug that changes something inside of us, making it impossible to continue to see this person as an anonymous member of a homogeneous group outside of our circle of interest. Details matter. We also experience this in race relations. It is too easy to glance at those of other ethnic backgrounds and believe they all look and act alike, lumping them into a single, usually negative racial stereotype. And of course we will not be able to distinguish the unique character of any particular individual until we learn something about their details. We will not see God in them until we look in their eyes and take a genuine interest in who they are beyond their outer appearance.
In praying for others, the details matter. When someone asks for me to pray for them or for someone else, I ask for as many details as they are comfortable sharing with me. On the one hand, I want to respect their privacy. On the other hand, I want to be able to visualize where the pain is so my prayer can be focused there. Knowing the details helps in that process.
In the same way, details matter in my personal prayers. It is not that God is not already aware of every little aspect of my issues, but that my awareness is likely deficient. There are almost certainly parts of the issue that I deny, repress, or otherwise prefer not to acknowledge. There may be connections to my past that I have completely ignored. I am probably reacting in ways that are consistent with the ways I have always reacted to difficult situations, and those reactions may not be helpful or honest. Being up front with God about the entire situation, searching for and sorting through the details with God is helpful once we know God as non-judgmental and accepting of us as and where we are.
Revealing the details of our situation to God and others is uncomfortable because it makes us vulnerable. Making ourselves vulnerable – revealing ourselves in our essential nakedness – allows God to meet us in our pain, which is where healing begins. Praying vague, generic prayers is like praying with one eye open in that we are not fully giving ourselves over in prayer. Praying the details is surrendering ourselves to God where those details can be resurrected into something better.
This is the 24th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.
A Special Invitation: For readers of Life Notes living in or near Lawrence, Kansas, we will be performing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Mass on the World this Saturday morning, June 22, 2019, as a way of welcoming and honoring the Summer Equinox. Meet us at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center Overlook (1365 N 1250 Rd), at 5:50 AM for the sunrise and at 6:00 AM for the service. It will last about 20 minutes.
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