devozine

Spiritual Practice

A Prayer

Tricia Nowacki

When people ask, “What do you do?” or “What do you want to do?” my best anwer is “I’m a pray-er, trying to become a prayer.”

I was born into a Catholic household. As a young child, I refused to pray. I refused to eat if eating involved praying beforehand. I screamed whenever we entered the church. A statue of the Virgin Mary stared at me from outside our kitchen window. She too disturbed my meals, so I unrepentantly placed a sand bucket over her head.

I was sent to Catholic school. My teachers taught me a variety of ways to pray—not only to memorize and recite ancient prayers, but to pray from my heart. In doing so, they taught me how to nurture a relationship with God. By the time I was nine, I had become an adamant pray-er. I still hated church, but prayer was a secret joy for me.

Rocker Girl2 TSP 119244085When I started high school, I stopped praying. My attention went elsewhere, mostly to my hardcore punk band, Snot Rocket. But as a senior in high school, I realized, suddenly, that my band would not provide me a viable future. We were all quite terrible musicians.

Wondering what I could do with my life, I prayed. Nothing came. Then one of my friends said, out of nowhere, “I see you as a professor. English, maybe?”

I was shocked and secretly delighted. I thought of the D I had earned in English. I also thought about how much I loved books. So I took the idea to God, who seemed to think it was a good one. I, of course, ignored God’s comments. I went to community college in Biology; but my call to English persisted, and I eventually gave in. I remember praying, “Whatever you want, God, I’ll do it; just help me to accept it.” After getting a Master’s degree, I landed a job teaching English and began to settle into God’s plan for my life.

One day, when I was praying, I heard God tell me, “I want you to share my word.” I didn’t understand. Did God want me to read the Bible in church?

Out of nowhere, a university asked if I’d be interested in a doctoral fellowship. I prayed—a lot; and to my dismay, I felt God’s urging. I was not happy. I was baffled by God’s guidance. But God had often led me to places I did not expect to go.’

As I settled into my doctoral work, God’s request became louder and more direct. God wanted me to go to seminary, to make ministry my full time job. I resisted. I loved teaching, and I was doing well in my academic work. I could see no reason to leave my work—except that every time I prayed, God told me I needed to go to seminary.

My first year of seminary was difficult. Personally and professionally, my world was shaken; and although I pressed onward, I wanted to walk away.

In John 6:56–69, many of Jesus’ followers were confused and probably repulsed by the things he was teaching. Some of them left his company. When Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Do you also wish to go away?” Peter did not say, “Of course not! We have understood everything you said, and we completely agree.” Nope. Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68, NRSV). I doubt that Peter understood exactly what those words meant; but Peter knew that Jesus was “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6a, NRSV). Peter just went with it.

I too found that the only choice is to follow Jesus, who does some really bizarre stuff and turns our world upside down. I sensed a rhythm, a pattern to my winding journey, even though I could not hear it or see it. It was God’s rhythm, which is mysterious. And I went with it.

The poet Stephen Levine says, “First you pray, but eventually your life becomes the prayer.” I have been called; we all have been called. But are we yet responses? We pray, but are we yet prayers? Becoming the prayer, I think, involves being immersed in God’s rhythm, abandoning ourselves to it, and knowing there’s no better place to be.

 

DIG DEEPER

Doing what God calls you to do requires openness, patience, and good listening skills. But listening to God is often difficult. How do you know if God, you, or someone else is talking? Often, God is not the loudest voice you hear. Don’t be discouraged if God seems silent; be patient, and keep listening.

Try a Prayer of Examen to help you seek and remember God’s continual presence and guidance in your life. At the end of the day, begin by taking a moment to recognize that you are always in the presence of God. Take a few deep breaths. You might want to repeat the words “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a, NIV) or “God is with me always.” Then review your day. Examine each hour, dig deep into your experiences and feelings, and think about when you felt God’s presence. What was revealed to you about yourself, the world, and God? Give thanks for these moments. Then consider the moments when you felt distant from God. What do they reveal? Consider what habits or people are part of your feeling close to or far away from God. Offer thanks for understanding, ask forgiveness, and ask God for further guidance. Finally, be open to whatever God may be telling you—even if it is completely unexpected or seems impossible.

Tricia Nowacki is a writer, student, artist, teacher, and minister in Chicago. She enjoys crocheting, drawing mandalas on handkerchiefs, bad coffee, and lip balm.

—from devozine (November/December 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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