Several years ago i finished a class on Jesus and Prayer with Eugene Peterson. It was a good course. This class changed my life and how i view prayer. i learned, that prayer is more than just a speech event. Until I took this class i had always viewed prayer as conversation with God and that was it. This emphasis brought me down a wrong and spurious path, as through time prayer became an activity to do.
As an activity, i have found prayer to be a questionable endeavor. To my ears, it seemed like i was always trying to bend God to my will. i'd ask for forgiveness only to fail once more and wind up asking for forgiveness. Words began to seem hollow and prayer as conversation became an increasingly meaningless activity in my life. i knew that my understanding of prayer was incomplete and i truly desired to learn what it is to pray. That is why i began to study Jesus and his prayer in the first place. To gain a greater understanding of the nature of prayer.
Prayer as an activity can be best described in the question i had asked my friends for many years, "How is your prayer life these days?" On the surface it seems like genuine concern for their soul and relationship with the Lord. Which is of course my motive. But the Language itself implies a duality of life that is contrary to what i now understand prayer to be.
To talk of a prayer life is no different than asking about someone's personal life, business life, social life and on it goes. It implies a compartmentalization of activity and a multiplicity of "modes" of action. This is how we tend to live in our modern age, no integration of person. This is further from the reality of prayer than one can get. Rather than have a prayer life, one should have a life of prayer.
A life of prayer is a unified look at the personality in relationship with God. As Eugene states, "Prayer is a life that cultivates interiority with God." This notion is very close to the Ideal of the early monastic orders. A life in continual relationship with God at every moment as John Cassian referred to it in Conference one. To put it another way, it is the continual practice of the presence of God in the terms of Brother Lawrence.
i have a very strong ascetic streak in me. Given that i had previously thought of prayer as a "spiritual activity," i would go on a spiritual retreat once a year and spend 10 days alone in the mountains seeking God in a deeper way. While in the bush, i'd push myself to physical exhaustion to bring my body in line and then i'd engage in fasting, prayer and reading of the scriptures. i found these times to be very enriching as i was free of the encumbrances of the modern world and completely focused on God. Though it would take me several days in the bush to completely refocus.
i would loathe the thought of my time ending and re-entering the distraction of daily life. My food would run out and the responsibilities of my life would pull me away from this blessed state of existence. Upon returning to my daily life, it seemed to lack any sense of the spirit of God. Within a few months i'd be back in my normal routine and my wilderness experience would become just a memory. This only served to strengthen my desire to return to the wild mountains the next year.
For me, my spiritual retreats are an intensely personal time of repentance and prayer of which i seldom speak of with others. In the several years following this class i have sought to cultivate a life of prayer. It is this attitude that has drawn me into the path of the Christian Mystic.
i no longer have a prayer life. The entirety of my life is lived as a prayer to God. Prayer has ceases to be an activity i do as it is part of the fabric of my life. It manifests itself in various forms and modes in my daily routine. While i do practice verbal prayer, it no longer remains an activity i do as it simply flows out of the life i live. Life is a continual series of Thin Spaces that i pass through as i work, play, eat, rest, and live life.
i wish i could say that every moment of my life is a prayer, but i do sin at times. These are the times when my prayer ceases and i live a divided life. Jesus was free from sin and therefore lived a life completely before God. It is this holistic life lived with God that is my Quest and my largest failing as i loose the presence of God when i sin.
Prayer is life and not just a one-way speech in the morning, it is a cultivation of our innermost life with God moment by moment.