Closing Shop on God
I haven’t prayed in a while.
Not because I’ve been too busy to take the time. Not because I don’t have anything to say to God. Not because my life is going swimmingly.
I haven’t prayed in a while because I’m worn out.
It’s one of those seasons when I wonder whom I’m talking to or why I’m talking. I often ask myself if anything would change at all if I stopped reaching toward God.
The last six months have been a period of person upheaval and painful growth for me, and my spirituality has had to transform along with the rest of my life.
I am a person of spiritual practice — I make gratitude lists, I journal, I write poetry and songs, I sing hymns and light candles before bed, I set up altars in my room, I carry prayer beads, I meditate.
These are habits woven into my life, but recently, in the wake of painful transition, they’ve all kind of slowed down. They’ve all gotten quiet.
This is not new. Scripture and tradition are full of great teachers and seekers who have walked through times of darkness and silence from God. No one needs to feel alone in that process, and I certainly don’t. Yet, the prayers of others don’t seem to fit for me these days. No prayers seem to fit at all.
So I stopped. I untangled my spiritual practices from the weaving of my life. I stopped speaking to God, with words or music or movement. I closed up shop, spiritually, and went dark.
Become a Prayer
Nothing happened, of course.
No bolts of lightning, no sudden light of revelation, no voice of the Almighty.
Just quiet, and the smallest kind of transformation.
Here is the truth I have learned: closing up shop and going dark, quitting your spiritual practices, telling God goodbye — these things are still prayer.
Our very breathing, our very being itself, is sufficient.
[P]ain and need and vulnerability lead us directly to God.
Then we do not need to practice prayer. We become a prayer.
We throw ourselves on the heart of God.
(Joan Chittister, The Breath of the Soul, 37)
As the Psalmist cries, “My whole being clings to you!” (Psalm 63:8) There have been days when clinging is all I can muster, and that is enough.
I do not always have to pray. I can let my life pray for me. I can let the spirit intercede with groans deeper than language. If that is the only prayer that fits, that is the prayer I will pray.
I do not always need to reach toward God. God will reach toward me. I love how the poet Rainer Maria Rilke expresses this:
Because someone once desired You,
I know that we, too, may desire You.
Even if we renounce all depths:
when gold lies deep in the mountains,
and no one’s there to dig for it,
one day the river brings it to the surface,
reaching in stillness into the stones,
into their fullness.
Even when we don’t desire,
When I read that, I think of all those great teachers and seekers who have gone before into the darkness. When I am out of faith, I can lean on their faith. I can lean on their doubt. I can lean on their desire.
When I do not desire, I can allow myself just to be in that place, trusting that the movement of love is not dependent on me. The web of the world will carry me anyway. God will ripen anyway.
Waiting in the Tomb
I’m sure there will be a day when I pray again. My heart will heal and re-open, and a new chapter of my spiritual life will begin. There will be prayer beads and poems and hymns sung again.
Until then, I cling. And I become prayer. And I desire (or not).
And I trust that the whole while, I am transforming and God is ripening.
It is a season of Holy Saturday, an in-between waiting. Something is happening in the quiet darkness of the tomb. I cannot see it or control it, but I know it is coming. I know that life is coming out of this death, even before I feel its first breath.
Cling. Become. Desire.
Enough for now.