Prayer and the Lonely Places


Alone in Prayer

I never was so unhappy, never felt so great the sense of loneliness. No matter how many times I gave up mother, father, husband, brother, daughter, for His sake, I had to do it over again.

Dorothy Day The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist

And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

I still do not think I grasp the significance of the place prayer occupied in the life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels. Prayer seems to be more important to Jesus than sleep, food, and maybe even his ministry. What did he say? What were the nature of his practices? We can speculate given what we know about mystics in general or 1st Century C.E. Jewish prayer in particular, but this Lent I am less interested as a scholar and more interested as struggling pilgrim. I wonder how were His prayers different than my feeble attempts? What may even be more mind boggling is how might they be similar.

I think Jesus was probably lonely in this world and that drove him to lonely places to connect to the one he knew as Father. The existential, emotional, and spiritual lonely place in which each individual finds him or herself might ultimately be what drives us to the Father of Jesus as well. Yes Jesus walked a lonesome valley; but we do as well. The chief difference is Christ has walked ahead and offers meaning, comfort, and an example.

Billy Graham passed away this morning and in the midst of all the reflection of his legacy, I am thinking about his last years. He spent it not preaching to the masses-but rather his body and mind failing-without his love and best friend Ruth, living on a beautiful but lonely mountain, praying and waiting. Perhaps that was his most challenging and important ministry of all.

In George Herbert's poem The Pulley, He envisions God's creation of humanity almost as an inverted Pandora's Box, listing all the amazing attributes bestowed on the human race. But the poem ends like this:

Yet let him keep the rest,

But keep them with repining restlessnesse:

Let him be rich and wearie, that at last,

If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse

May tosse him to my breast.

Lent is neither about avoiding the restlessness nor the ignoring long loneliness; rather it is about following it until we find Jesus already there waiting...for us.

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