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Prayer 101

alec vanderboom

Okay, so nothing has intimidated me more than discovering that my primary job as a secular Carmelite is prayer. “Prayer for priests and prayer for sinners.” Just writing that line makes my heart light. It’s such a lovely, inviting task. Much like, “please invite your dearest friends to share coffee at the National Gallery cafe on your birthday and then visit your favorite artwork of your Blessed Mother together.”

‘Plan a birthday party tea at the National Gallery,” that’s the insight I received at Adoration recently. A happy enjoyable task, I couldn’t wait to do. That is for all of the ninety sections it took to open up an Evite folder.

Suddenly a birthday tea at the Smithsonian seemed intimidating. Who would I invite? Do my Protestant, non-Mary ‘worshiping” Mom & Sister get placed on the invite list? What about the logistics? What should I write about directions and parking situation? And most importantly, is everyone going to think that I’m crazy for wanting to stand around “lonely’ former alter paintings with my rosary?

(That “people will think I’m crazy” pride thing trips me up a lot).

That ability I have to take a perfect, easy, holy task and muck it up in my brain with endless anxious “am I doing this wrong?” questions also happens a lot.

I had a breakthrough on the prayer thing which I’m writing down so that I’ll remember the next time I start suffering from social anxiety with Jesus again.

A few weeks ago, I had a broken conversation with my sister. I had a long car ride home on the George Washington Parkway. I was all alone in the car (a great rarity in my current life). I needed to talk to someone. We don’t own a cell phone and for the thousand time I thought “this is one of those moments when it would be really nice to be able to call Jon.”

I couldn’t call my husband, but a little voice inside said “you can always call Jesus on the cell phone!”

I quickly bent my three fingers and place my pinky to my mouth and my thumb to my ear. (Making an inverted Hawaiian sign is how my 18 month old daughter & I pretend to talk on the phone in my house.) The motion was super quick. I think I even forgot make the sign of the cross.

With my pretend cell phone on my right ear, I started talking to Jesus. It was so easy. I could find the words to talk to him “on a cell phone”-- those easy, non scripted things on my heart—that had eluded me when I tried to pray “the right way” with my hands clasped and my head in serious prayer mode.

I told Jesus about the things in my heart. I told him about all the brokenness with my sister and my hurt that my Catholic faith seems to be the wedge that drives us further away from understanding each other. All these feelings which I thought were snarled in a endless knot came flowing all out in these relaxed, easy words.

I told my husband last night I started to imagine that my prayer to Jesus were a simple cell phone call. I showed him my silly hand motion that helps me to pray.

Jon got so excited about the metaphor. “You’ve got to collect yourself and dial the right number. That’s the recollecting your soul to God and making the sign of the cross” he said.

The he told me something really sweet. “You know that prayer of the quiet that you always struggle with?”

I nodded.

“That’s not anything grand or mysterious. That’s waiting on the cell phone connection until Jesus answers back.”

Remembering to pause in my stream of consciousness so that Jesus gets a chance to answer back?

Wow. A simple lack of social etiquette that I struggle with in real life.

I’m always excitedly talking OVER my friends’ words and missing half of their tender advice.

The prayer of the quiet is holding my tongue and letting Jesus have a turn to talk.

“I can work on prayer of the quiet!” I said. “That’s a skill that would be nice to have in my “real” life too.

Prayer 101. Simple. Easy. And endlessly useful.