Time after time I came to your gate with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.
You gave and gave, now in slow measure, now in sudden excess.
I took some, and some things I let drop; some lay heavy on my hands; some I made into playthings and broke them when tired; till the wrecks and the hoard of your gifts grew immense, hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation wore my heart out.
Take, oh take—has now become my cry.
Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl: put out this lamp of the importunate watcher: hold my hands, raise me from the still-gathering heap of your gifts into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence. Rabindranath Tagore
What do you want from God? Help, healing, understanding, growth, to be a better person, to have meaning and purpose, to find what you should be doing with your life, to discover God’s will, to be saved, to live forever? There is nothing wrong with any of this, but it is not the last word.
Prayer properly is not a self-improvement programme. If you want to be a better person, or help people out, or make the world a better place, you’ve made a mistake: this writing is not for you. What you want is of crucial importance: please look elsewhere. Surely, prayer will help with these things and we hope to God for help and guidance to act more compassionately and justly. But when I kiss my lover, when I snuggle up with my children or sit down for supper with friends, when I listen to Bach’s Preludes and Fugues or read a great novel, it is not for self-improvement, but because I love them. This is fundamentally and primarily what prayer is about. God loves you and wants you. Self-improvement is a bonus, not a condition of engagement.
This is counter-cultural. We are so used to trying to make progress or just acquiring more. We – certainly our small-yet-influential North American/West European cult – are full of projects to own and sculpt the world, body and soul.
Spiritual practices are often co-opted and colonised by this desire. In the end this is mistaken. You do not pray to be a better person or get something from God. Spiritual practice doesn’t try to change anything. You observe, love, meet with silence, and let be; otherwise it becomes a fetish, a striving or a scruple. If prayer is anything, it is acquiescence. What God is, you are. There is nothing else. It is connecting with the deepest, truest self, the source of being and life.
If you are lucky, when you were born your were nestled in your mother’s chest and fed and loved. As a child of God you need never grow out of this: the Universe bends over your little, beautiful body, to which it has so recently given birth, and loves you entirely.
Which is why this body is where it’s at.