Do you have a prayer hero, a role model or “guide” for spiritual direction? Whether or not we choose one consciously most of us probably have some impression in our minds about what proper prayer looks like and that impression probably came from someone we considered an expert in the field.
Sometimes our selection of “experts” leaves something to be desired. Jennifer Schuchmann and I relay a story our book Six Prayers God Always Answers about a particularly powerful, but warped picture of spirituality.
It is said that St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mt. Sinai Egypt, still honors the final will and testament of three monks who lived there twelve centuries ago. One monk was a doorkeeper. He wanted to keep his job forever and so to honor his request, his mummy still sits beside the door he guarded in life.
Behind the door lived the other two monks. Each had taken a vow to devote his life to perpetual prayer. One would pray while the other slept. They never saw each other or spoke to one another. Their only connection was a chain that ran through the wall and was attached to their wrists. When one had completed his prayers, he would yank the chain as a signal for the other to begin.
When the two men died, their skeletons were laid side by side in caskets. And there they rest today, still united by the same links of chain.
Some historians believe that rigorous monastic disciplines like the one practiced by these monks helped preserve civilization during the cultural deterioration of the early Middle Ages.
But anecdotes like these, told as sermon illustrations by well-intentioned pastors, have unintentionally decreased not only the occurrence of prayer but also the number of active pray-ers. When an average twenty-first century Westerner hears of such eccentric dedication, the typical response is, “If this is what it takes to pray to God, count me out.”
Prayer isn’t accomplished by some divine formula. Its power isn’t amplified if we assume some sort of ascetic or monastic posture.
Question: Do you have any ascetic tendencies in your spiritual life? Do you imagine that prayer has to be “hard” to be “worthy?” Where does this assumption come from? Is it correct, now that you think about it? What does this say about your image of God? What would you like to believe about God?