Spiritual Stretching: The Benefits of Prayer

In his new book, Pray for Me: Finding Faith in a Crisis, Rick Hamlin reminds us that prayer always rewards those who practice it.

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- Posted on Jul 17, 2017

A mature woman clasps her hands in prayer

I smile when I pray. At least it feels like I do. My body smiles. I don’t hold up a mirror to see and I’ve never had myself photographed praying, although a young colleague of mine wants to do it for a series of portraits of people in prayer. “I’m not sure I can pray if I know someone is taking pictures of me,” I said. Once a New York Times photographer wanted to do that, taking a picture of me praying on the New York subway because I like to pray on the subway train. I told the man that he could photograph me reading psalms from my little pocket Bible—no problem—but he couldn’t take a picture of me praying there. It would be phony, a charade, like simulated sex in a Hollywood movie. My eyes closed, my head bowed, I’d be listening to the click of the shutter, not God.

I read of a study once—talk about scientific studies—about the benefits of stretching before and/or after vigorous exercise. The researcher was trying to find out if those who stretched suffered from fewer running injuries than those who didn’t. As I remember the study was inconclusive. You couldn’t prove anything. The message to me: you stretch because it increases your range of motion. It feels good. 

Prayer feels good. You’re getting in touch with a larger part of yourself. You’re putting things into perspective. You’re reaching out for the divine. You’re listening to yourself—yes, all those piddling anxieties and worries and the not so piddling ones, you’re going to drop into the lap of the Most Holy and leave them behind as much as is possible or at least until you sit on the sofa again, or the subway or the chair in your office or in the kitchen beneath the ticking clock or in the pew in the empty church or in the folding chair in the twelve-step meeting. This is your holy place, your stretching time.

PURCHASE RICK HAMLIN'S PRAY FOR ME: FINDING FAITH IN A CRISIS

You’re not there to get the good idea for your next novel or what to say at the meeting you’ll lead on Thursday or the Power Point you have to present. You’re not even there to get some clever insight into the spiritual life. The point of prayer is not to watch yourself praying. You’re not going to leap off the pillow to rush into the spiritual growth seminar, waving your hand, dying to be called on, saying, “The most amazing thing happened to me when I was praying this morning…” Okay, you might just do that, but don’t plan on it. Don’t listen to what you’re thinking about the divine. Just listen.

Amazing things will happen. Indeed the great idea for the novel and a whole series of novels or screenplays might come to you. The brainstorm that you’ve been waiting for will surely descend; the dedicated silence of your prayer session could be a spawning ground for a host of fertile notions, no doubt about it, but you don’t need to make huge demands on prayer. Let it deliver what it has to offer, and what it has to offer is itself.

The farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, waters it or waits for the rain to fall. The farmer works hard but the wondrous thing that happens isn’t anything he could do on his own. A tendril pushes up through the ground, the sun shines on it, the rain falls, leaves burst out, branches grow, the stalk rises, blossoms spring forth and fall, fruit fills their place, pulling nutrients from the sky and soil, until the glorious day of the harvest comes, baskets and bins filled to the brim. The miracle is nothing the farmer did; it was done for him.

Put yourself in a place and space where wonders are done for you, where better things will befall you than you would dare ask for, where love prospers and hope flourishes and goodness prevails, where worries about the future are few because the day itself is a source of joy.

Excerpted from Pray for Me: Finding Faith in a Crisis by Rick Hamlin.

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