We live in a fast food, speedy lube, online banking society. Reading today’s passage, it’s hard for many of us to see prayer outside of this cultural lens. “Ask and it will be given” seems like a loaded statement, filled with pie in the sky, cake on your plate, North American theology.
In his book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen says that the spiritual journey is always a movement from the familiar to the unknown. Moving from hostility to hospitality, illusion to prayer, and from loneliness to solitude.
A few years ago, after 27 years of serving kids on the street, I felt this tugging that Nouwen speaks of. I felt a call to leave, to step into the unfamiliar. So at 47 years old, with no job, no retirement, and no real plan, I left the organization that I had been serving since I was 20. This journey was a terrifying, deep, liminal space where most days felt like treading water rather than being sustained by daily bread. My prayers during this time were somewhere between “God why cant you?” and “ God how could you?”
A Journey of Waiting and Wandering
But I learned something about life, illusions, and prayer during the five years I spent wandering between the organization that raised me up and the graduate school where I now teach. I realized that it didn’t take forty years to get the ancient Hebrews out of Egypt. It took forty years to get Egypt out of the ancient Hebrews. There is a necessary journey of waiting and wandering that I now think of as prayer.
In these moments, where I let go of one trapeze bar before the next was visible—they felt prayerful. Prayer became a liminal space where the things that I thought I needed could be exposed as illusions manufactured by my pride and unattended wounds. It began to open new space for what I couldn’t imagine and couldn’t see, where all that is human in me could make room for the Divine desire I didn’t know I had. Letting go of our comforting, familiar illusions and accepting the unknown—this seems to be what we need to model for the communities we serve.
Step into the Unknown
Every time we encourage a homeless man to think about entering a housing program; every time we offer to help women caught in cycles of domestic abuse to leave and go to a shelter; every time we motivate an adolescent who is drug addicted to go to treatment—we are asking someone to take the spiritual step from the familiar to the unknown.
My encouragement is simply this: can we too move toward the unknown, modeling a spiritual journey this is faith-filled and far from certain. Can we honestly explore these empty spaces in our own lives, the places of tragedy, suffering, and disappointment? Our willingness to pull back the curtain on these spaces will give us genuine empathy and credibility as we invite others to do the same. It is only by leaning into these prayerful places that we can begin to invite others to make the journey.
If we enter into these empty spaces, with the deeply vulnerable posture of asking, we might not get what we want, but our desire will be exposed and give way to the Spirit of the All Mighty.
This Reflection is a gathering of thoughts from Ron Roothruff’s book Closer to the Edge: Walking with Jesus for the Worlds Sake