Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God. who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
–Romans 8: 26-27
I spent years trying to learn to pray. I approached prayer like I approached any other task in life: I read numerous books on the subject and tried to follow the recommendations and practices described in them until I felt I was successful. “Successful” meant I’d learned the lesson of how to do the thing I was studying to learn and could do it on my own.
There are no lack of books describing how to pray in the Western traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So I got to reading and practicing in my own Christian lineage: The Jesus Prayer, The Rosary, Centering Prayer, The Examen, Lectio Divina, and on…the list is long!
Wonderful traditions of prayer, all of which I studied seriously and sincerely tried to enact. And yet, something never quite fit for me.
I was confused; I meditated for a long time on this reflection from the apostle Paul:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Through this meditation I had somehow, someway convinced myself that even though I didn’t know how to pray as I ought, it was necessary for me to nevertheless reach a certain threshold of prayer for the Spirit to come and “take over and do the rest.” The Spirit would come and take me the rest of the way (wherever that might be!), but I believed I had to generate a certain degree of spiritual momentum on my own. It was still on me. So I tried even harder and continued to see mediocre results at best.
Until one day a thought – seemingly out of nowhere – popped into my head during prayer:
“What if God is the one praying?”
At first this thought seemed rather ludicrous so I brushed it off. Except about a minute later it returned:
“No, seriously: what if God is the one praying?”
This time the thought sunk in. It was at that point that I felt a warmth, a current of quiet radiating joy. It felt like this quiet, radiating joy was both inside me but yet also outside me. It slowly dawned on me that this feeling was my connection to God praying.
After this, “my” prayer life ceased being my prayer life.
I realized the true Pray-er was God not me. “My” prayer was first and foremost to simply feel into God’s praying, to simply find that current, that felt marker of God’s praying, and then to relax into it.
It’s a space of “prayer before praying” – and in community, theology, and even spirituality, we so often skip it.
If God is truly the one praying, then our lives simply become that of devotees. As devotees we are ones who seek only to keep our minds, our hearts, our wills on the current of God always already praying. We seek to do this both in specific times of prayer but equally in daily life. The way of a devotee is to love and serve and be kind to others, grounded in this ever-alive current of God’s prayer.
Though I call this current “warm,” it’s not an emotion in me. I’m not confusing an emotional reaction in me for this current of God’s prayer. Emotionally I can feel distressed, upset, content, happy, sad, anxious, angry, and still be in touch with this current.
This current is a current of grace. The current is simply a marker, a pointer to the connection to God’s praying being established. It’s God’s prayer or God’s praying that is the essential thing, the current of warmth is simply the means of recognizing that I’m caught up in the current of God’s ongoing, continual, ever-present prayer.
It is precisely as Paul said: “the very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
This has changed everything for me. Beginning with connecting to God’s prayer is the most important place to begin. I call it connecting to the connection. The connection, the prayer, is God’s. We connect to God’s connection. In fact it’s really more a recognition of the inherent connection we already have – bringing it into conscious awareness.
From this connection to the current, we can then choose to participate or co-operate through any number of traditional means of prayer.
One connects to the connection, and then voices words of praise, i.e. prayer of praise.
Another connects to the connection and then voices gratitude, i.e. prayer of gratitude.
Yet another connects to the connection and receives forgiveness, i.e. prayer of confession.
And still another connects to the connection and then simply sits in silent, loving gaze, i.e. contemplative prayer.
Praying for the healing of suffering, prayers for spiritual guidance and strength, prayers to consecrate oneself to God, all of these more well-known forms of prayer become simple in the connection. They become spontaneous, natural, and uncomplicated when the first movement is to connect to God’s always already-existing prayer.
Still at other times all that is necessary is to sit in devotion, to relax into the current of God’s praying itself. This is the deepest form of adoration. It is God who is praying and loving this world into being. It is most simply a matter of locating the feeling of God’s loving and praying the world into being. Until this simple recognition is cultivated, the rest is too full of our own efforts.
It is time we became devotees of the Glorious Lord. Before seeking to learn to pray, learn to become a devotee. We do not know to pray as we ought. It is the better path to seek to experience God, The Spirit is already and always at prayer.
Chris Dierkes is a long time student and practitioner of the Christ-consciousness mystical path. After receiving his MDiv., Chris worked in parish ministry for three years (Anglican Church of Canada) and now maintains a private practice in interspiritual soul work. In addition Chris has studied energy healing, intuitive arts, and shamanic practice. He writes frequently on subjects of spirituality in the contemporary world. He lives in Vancouver with his wife Chloe and their daughter Sage. You can check out his writing and practice here.