Twenty years ago last January I received an invitation from the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine to be part of a group of women who, for whatever reason, and at whatever age, found themselves at a “Crossroads”, wanting some prayerful time-out to discern what-in-the-world God might be calling them to next. In a way, the invitation echoed a passage from Luke’s Gospel: “Ask, and it shall be given you, search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” This of course is the invitation Jesus extends to all who would be his disciples, those looking for a way to live with authenticity and purpose.
We were offered an “enjoyable and challenging opportunity to participate in community living, to experience a healthy balance of life; time to deepen our relationship with God through regular prayer and meditation, reading, classes, and individual mentoring with a Sister; space to explore vocation as a way to live out our Baptismal call, as lay or ordained persons, in or outside the Church and to gain insight into how to discern one’s call to a particular life or ministry.” What a generous invitation!
Ask, search and knock are three metaphors for petitionary prayer. True petitionary prayer is an act of exploration that seeks to discover God’s call and also the grace to accomplish it. They are all, for those who study grammar, present imperatives, the tense of “continuing action” as in: keep on asking, keep on searching, keep on knocking and do so faithfully, being assured that what we ask, will be answered; what we search for, will be found and what we feel we are knocking against, will be opened to us. We are not asking an unfriendly neighbour, but One who is like a loving parent – though One infinitely more loving than we can ever really imagine. We need to be realistic though: God responds to our needs, not our fantasies. As one writer has commented, “Pray for a cherry-red sports-car, and God may answer your prayer by granting you the wisdom to make a more mature request.”
The month-long exploration had its ups and downs, highs and lows, thinking and re-thinking. We learned about prayer in a place of unceasing prayer. We learned various ways to pray: using Scripture as a basis for our prayer, using the name of Jesus as our prayer, finding ways through meditative postures or walking to give ourselves totally into God’s embrace, opening ourselves to hear the still small voice of the One who has always known us
Jesus’ image of the loving parent reminds us, as did C.S. Lewis and Kierkegarrd, that prayer does not change God; it changes the one who prays. The prescription to ask, seek and knock is preceded by what we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer, which as Christians, has become the model for us for all our prayer. In it, we find all of Jesus’ most fundamental teachings: the primacy of love over hate, forgiveness over vindictiveness and, above all, the summons to unite our desire to that of God’s. It is the framework that encourages us to look beyond our own needs to the needs of others and to our needs in relationship with others. Once we take our focus off what we think we want, we can more clearly discern what God wants for us.
In these last twenty years I’ve discovered discerning God’s call is not necessarily an easy task. Nor is it a “one-time” task, but rather a daily, prayerful, life-long, on-going pilgrimage as the marvellous road unfolds before us.
The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith