Snow flutters around me as I make my way to the side entrance of the massive stone church. It is after eight and the evening air is cold and still. I nestle further into my coat as I crunch through the glistening snow.
Looking down, I see the footprints of the many who have already trudged this curvy path today. Some have limped with canes, while others have pushed strollers or come with toddlers. One set of prints suggests the long strides of a young man stopping in to pay his Lord a visit on his lunch hour. So many have come to clear the clutter from their restless minds. So many, from all areas of life, have humbly made their way to church. I am only walking in their footsteps.
Distractions, Distractions. The automated door swings shut behind me, and I am immediately aware of a silence so loud that I feel I should tiptoe to my seat. Only one other parishioner is at prayer. Trying not to disturb her, I creep to a pew, genuflect, sniffle, remove my coat, and put down the kneeler. Each movement echoes into the stillness and I cringe, feeling that I am somehow infecting the quiet with my worldly noise.
I kneel, place my elbows on the smooth wood, and clasp my hands. Resting my chin on laced fingers, I feel my gaze drawn to the mysterious dips of shadow and floods of light. Snippets of Sunday Mass flit through my mind. “. . . With humble and contrite hearts. . . . May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
I start a rambling conversation with God. The chatter of everyday life keeps tangling my thoughts and I wonder, Is prayer supposed to be chatty? In the middle of thanking God for my blessings, I remember something my mom told me on the phone this morning. While trying to ask for God’s help in my personal struggles, I think of the kids and wonder if I need to pick up baby food or diapers on my way home. I ask forgiveness for my sins, and then realize that I just took five minutes to plan out the entire menu for tomorrow’s dinner.
Focus is difficult to find, even here in this place of worship. My life is so hectic, my thoughts so scattered. I find it nearly impossible to put everyday concerns aside to make way for grace and peace to enter my heart.
The Great Conversation. The longer I keep at this thing called prayer, however, the more I begin to feel something flutter inside me. Sitting in the church pew late at night on a First Friday, or at Sunday Mass with the kids, or at early morning Mass on Advent weekdays, I’ve found my thoughts beginning to weave themselves into a tapestry of sincere gratitude, penitence, and pleas for God’s help.
As I let my thoughts wander in God’s presence, I start to think of the people in my life and how I need to love them as Christ loves me. I began to realize—to know—that Christ does indeed love me, because I can feel that love welling up in me. I can see the fruits of his blessings all around me, in my healthy family, our sturdy home. At moments like this, prayer isn’t just a matter of words.
So what’s moving in me now? Or who? In a moment of clarity I realized: It’s God who’s moving in me, God who’s with me in the very midst of my mundane concerns. I knocked on his door long and hard, and finally I realized that he was right here with me all the time. It wasn’t that he wasn’t opening—he had his hand on my shoulder even as I knocked and waited for him to answer.
So as the days pass and I grow in my faith, I’ve learned that prayer isn’t some profound and holy ritual that only the saintly among us can master. And God isn’t sitting on a throne, waiting for his servants to be worthy enough to speak to him. Quite simply, prayer is just conversation with the greatest friend we will ever have, the friend who knows us completely and loves us for who we are.
And although my church at twilight is a beautiful time to talk to God, it’s not the only time he’s listening. He’s there in the car, when I’m on my way to playgroup, and then in the grocery store. He’s in my kitchen when I’m stressing out over whether the chicken is cooked, and the baby is pulling the silverware drawer out onto his little head. He’s in the smiles of my friends as we laugh together on a Friday night, and in the tears of my husband as he talks about how much he misses his mom, who died when he was a teenager. He’s in both the quiet slumber of the winter earth and the vibrantly colored garden that comes back to life in the springtime.
God is everywhere, in everything, never beyond reach. Because of this, prayer is not beyond reach either. As I recognize and respond to God’s presence in the sounds and scenes of my daily life, it just happens. I sense that loving hand on my shoulder, and I rejoice in the knowledge that God is listening. I am never alone.
Domini Hedderman is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania.