This week I traveled to Mustang Island, Texas, a 4,000-acre state park just east of Corpus Christi. I was there for diocesan work and put in three 12-hour days, but on Wednesday afternoon I had the chance to run down to the beach for about an hour. I doffed my shoes and stared out at the Gulf of Mexico and looked down at the water at my feet, and I walked my 5K up and down the beach. (Also, got a blister.)
I realize that this space is usually reserved for the priest to say something wise, but I tell you: as I strolled around and listened to the breeze and felt the warmth of the gulf waters, not much of anything was happening in my head. And that in itself seemed worth noting. I was tired and empty from all the work I’d been doing. (Work that is, paradoxically, equally invigorating and interesting. Go figure.) And I thought a bit more about everything else I’ve got going on, and I thought a lot about whether I pray, and how I pray, and how often, and so on. I thought about prayer because I find that whenever I’m tired or angry or tempted or too far out of my element, prayer is sometimes the only thing that really brings me back to center. To sit; to breathe; to be inwardly quiet; to petition or intercede or give thanks; to open up to the clarity of Christ-consciousness.
I don’t like to push these things too far, so I just kept going down the beach, going on my way. But a bit further down, a clear voice piped up inside of me in response. It said, “Torey, are you thinking that prayer is work?” That was it. No further explanation or illumination. Just a question. Was I thinking that prayer was work?
Since then I’ve turned it over a few more times. That question was not an indictment, as I first heard it, but a genuine wondering. A kind invitation to ponder something.
When you sit across the table from your spouse or loved one, and you talk, are you working at your relationship, or are you enjoying it? I suppose one acceptable answer is simply “Yes,” and I can see the need, but I also like the dichotomy. Work or enjoyment? Because for all intents and purposes that’s what prayer is: just sitting across the breakfast table from God, musing over whatever it is that has your heart and mind captivated at the moment, and enjoying God. Sometimes it’s soul-crushingly real stuff you’re going over (someone’s in jail, someone has cancer, Ebola is in Dallas, or the world is otherwise burning), and sometimes it’s pretty mundane (it’s a nice day, I don’t want to take that test, etc.). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a vital conversation. In fact, any conversation with God is vital in ways we can’t possibly comprehend. I mean, really -- who can say how these things actually work?
When you love folks, you’ll work hard at your relationship with them. You’ll naturally forgive them. You’ll want to seek out their attention and enjoy it. You’ll give your attention to them as easily as you breathe or walk or sit or stand. You’ll take the long way around every time just to be seen and to see, and you can bet that you’ll pull up a chair and talk whenever the opportunity presents itself. Your enjoyment of the relationship essentially IS the work of the relationship. It only means you want to be with someone; you want more of someone; you’ll do what it takes to have as much enjoyment as possible. Even if it really is work, it sure doesn’t feel like it -- at least not “work” in the sense that we’ve come to understand the term.
So the clear little voice in my head was asking me a fairly crucial, brass-tacks kind of question: Is God a job, or is God a relational source of life and enjoyment? It’s a humbling and kind of thrilling question to ponder, but one that brings me back to root memories and root causes. I followed the call in my life out of a sense of wanting to follow who I was all the way back to my source, to God -- to love God more, to say Yes to God.
So. Perhaps this should come with a Heresy Alert, but here is my only advice: Don’t love God because the Bible said so or the priest said so or the Catechism listed it, or even because “it’s the right thing to do.” Love God -- with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind -- because God loves you madly and deeply, and is your very source, and wants to sit down and talk with you all the time, just you, across the breakfast table.
Now that’s a conversation I really don’t want to miss out on.