In talking about prayer that will help us to recognize the presence of God and the sacred in every day, we are not talking about our morning, noon, and evening prayers. Nor are we speaking of the Daily Offices of Matins and Evensong. Rather we are thinking of Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians: Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
The apostle is thinking of very short spoken prayers of praise, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession; exclamations, spoken or unspoken. Remember, Jesus warns about those who use many words in praying. Christ says, But when you pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Saint John Climacus, who took up his abode in the Sinai desert about 600 A.D., writes of ascent to God through various means in his classic work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Even though he wrote for those who lived in the Sinai desert amidst the rocks and darkness of Sinai, he has been a spiritual leader for the last fourteen hundred years. Perhaps what he says about prayer will help us in our journey to see the sacred in the every day. He writes:
Pray in all simplicity. The publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God. Try not to talk excessively in your prayer in case your mind is distracted by our search for words. One word from the publican sufficed to placate God, and a single utterance saved the penitent thief.
A few words uttered or spoken mentally over each hour of the whole day will suffice. Praise you. Thank you. Help me, O Lord. Blessed be your name. Guide me, Lord. Remember we shall not be heard for much speaking. Our God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit knows each of us individually, our problems, and our needs. We don’t have to keep informing God over and over again.
C. S. Lewis, in his small book, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, has some good advice:
We have been reminded by our Lord to not pray as if we have forgotten his omniscience – For your Heavenly Father knows you need all these things. This is one very silly sort of prayer: I have heard a man offer a prayer for a sick person which really amounted to a diagnosis followed by advice as to how God should treat the patient. And I have heard prayers. Prayers nominally for peace, but really so concerned for various devices which the petitioner believed to be a means to peace that they were open to the same criticism.
I once had a similar experience many years ago. I was invited to preach at a Lenten Service in a neighboring parish. In the final prayer of Evensong, just before the sermon hymn, the Rector offered his ad-lib prayer that outlined exactly what he hoped I would say in my sermon. I was not amused, and I am sure that God is not amused when we do the same thing to him.
We can give thanks throughout the day for the glory we see in God’s creation. We can pray for people and situations we happen upon. We don’t need to know anything about them or even their names. Again, C. S. Lewis has good advice. He writes:
Why do you find it so important to pray for people by their Christian names, I can’t imagine. I always assume that God knows their surnames as well. I am afraid many people appear in my prayers as, that old man in Crewe, or, that waitress, or even, that man. One may have lost, or may never know their names, and yet remember how badly they need to be prayed for.
We can, and should, be praying for anyone anywhere, whether we know them, their names, or their circumstances. We can lift anyone up to God’s care, with a few words spoken mentally or in a whisper. God knows their circumstances and their real needs.
We can also praise and thank God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for everything good and beautiful we see on the spot in the same way. Or we can thank and praise the Lord for help given or deliverance from a bad situation. One or two words, whispers, or mental notes will do.
There are some Psalms and canticles that will help us to try to be aware of the Sacred in the Every Day. In one of Charles Williams’s supernatural thrillers, War in Heaven, there is an old Archdeacon who goes around quietly singing different verses of Psalm 136 as appropriate to the occasion:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious; and his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the Lord, who only doeth great wonders; for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the Lord, who hath made the sun to rule the day; for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the Lord, who hath made the moon and the stars to govern the night; for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the Lord, who remembered us when we were in trouble; for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the Lord, who hath delivered us from our enemies; for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the Lord, who giveth food to all flesh; for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the God of Heaven; for his mercy endureth forever.
(Charles Williams, along with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, was one of the inklings. His seven supernatural novels lie somewhere between the style of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Williams is a good theologian and a good writer, although less known.)
In the same vein of reading frequently and becoming familiar with the verses of the canticle, the Benedictite, Omnia Opera Domini, will also help us to recognize the Sacred in the Every Day. Unfortunately since it is the longest of the three canticles provided in the Book of Common Prayer, for use after the first lesson at Matins, it is ignored by many. It was meant for use in Advent and Lent when the Te Deum is inappropriate. I try to use the Benedicite, Omnia Opera Domini on Wednesdays and Fridays at Morning Prayer. If you use it you might even learn to be able to thank God for the frost and cold, the ice and snow, lightnings and clouds, and the seas and floods.