by Marjorie George
I was working on the contents page of the magazine I was putting together. Someone reading it over my shoulder said, “Be sure to include the author names. That way I’ll know whether or not I want to read the article.” And I did, but since then I have thought more about it.
It’s a fairly closed-minded way to operate, when I reflect on it. But I, too, select articles and books based on the author. I presume I know what this writer has to say, and I usually like (read: agree with) it. I search the television-movies listings the same way: “Ooh, a Denzel Washington movie; let’s watch that.”
I expect to get what I expect to get from this person, experience, situation. I carry it into personal relationships – I presume to know why this person is acting this way, responding as he is. No point in listening any further.
We enter our prayer life through a similar preconceived set of notions. In his poem Footnote to all Prayers, C. S. Lewis says we often address God through the familiar symbols –God as father, judge, king, creator, and so on. The result is that the God to whom we pray is the God of our own perception. But our puny concepts of God are partial at best, flat-out false at worst.
When we begin by naming God, we assume that we know more about the one we’re addressing than we may actually know. In Naked Spirituality, Brian McLaren likens our prayers to arrows aimed at the bulls-eye of our conceptual target – our limited idea of God, which is so much less than God turns out to be. With Paul we see through that glass darkly (see I Corinthians 13:12).
So McLaren begins his prayers with one simple word: “here.” Here I am, Lord, and here you are. Let me just sit with that for a bit. Beginning with the word “here,” says McLaren, “subverts the assumption that we have God named, figured out, and properly targeted.” It is rather like being out in the woods, says McLaren, “calling out so that we can be found by the one seeking us.”
Here I am in the presence of the mystery with no compulsion to solve it. Here I am with the One who transcends my understanding. And here you are, God, whoever you are, and I wonder what you and I have to do with each other this day. Here I am, teacher, ready to learn. I’m showing up. Without my analytics.
“Here” begins the all-the-time practice of the presence. Here I am in this meeting with my colleagues, and here you are. Help me to be open to their thoughts instead of mentally racing to formulate my own response. Here I am selecting watermelon at the Wednesday morning farmer’s market. And here you are, and together we will ask a blessing on this brown-skinned farmer who works out in the hot Texas sun every day for my pleasure.
Here I am at this point in my life’s story. Here I am washing my face, pouring the first cup of coffee for the day. Here I am at a Little League baseball game, cheering on a grandchild on third base as he streaks for home plate. Here I am under the radiation machine as it delivers jolts to one specific part of my body. Here I am in pain, elation, worry, comfort, discomfort. And here you are — my past, my present, and my future. Here I will stay, even when I can’t name you, trying ever-so-hard to be open to what I don’t yet know.
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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