Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Prayer Board

Listen readily to holy reading, and devote yourself often to prayer. RB 4:55-56

Truly, we are forbidden to do our own will, for Scripture tells us: Turn away from your desires (Sir 18:30). And in the Prayer too we ask God that his will be done in us (Matt 6:10) RB 7:19-20

The scraps of paper are small, often smudged, spelling errors are common. But the stories behind them are often quite big. They are small glimpses into stories of the transition between life and death, the journeys of grief and rejoicing. Accurate, clinical accounts of illness are posted side by side with concerns about demon possession. The entire human condition is reflected in a constantly changing kaleidoscope of papers on a bulletin board.

In our hallway leading to chapel is the “prayer board.” It is a common sight in all monasteries, the place where anyone can put up a note in the form of a request for prayers. Everyone in the monastery stops by several times a day to see if any new requests have gone up. It is a form of news: the results of medical tests, phone calls announcing safe arrivals, thanksgivings for jobs received, presentations successfully given and private requests honored.

To much of the world the very notion of prayer seems archaic, perhaps rather quaint or a version of primitive magical thinking. Even among people who pray it can seem as if even prayer itself has become divisive and partisan as God is invoked to smite a variety of ideological enemies. But in the monastery prayer is simply who we are, it is the air we breathe, it is our purpose.

To read the prayer board every day, several times a day is to experience many little pin pricks. It is impossible to become callous when confronted with the evidence of the pieces of so many lives. Often the pieces are like sharp broken glass, suffering, illness and pain glint from the scraps of paper. Occasional moments of joy and thanksgiving stand out.

For the most part these aren’t big issues of world peace or systemic injustice, they are usually the issues that loom large only for a small group of people. But that is appropriate somehow. Our life isn’t one of making a great difference on the world stage, our life is one of small steps, quiet prayers, hidden impact. We often don’t know the people we pray for or whether their prayers, and ours are answered, but it doesn’t matter. To be a monastery is to be a place where faith and prayers are the reason for being, it is why we exist.

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