Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer doesn’t always require lofty language in a sacred space. It can be richest when it’s simple and spontaneous.  All I need to do is see our ordinary moments as the occasions for communicating with God. One of those simple spaces is my car. A few years ago someone challenged me to begin praying while driving. It might sound crazy, but it’s been one of the most profound changes I’ve ever made in my life. I love praying on the move.

And I love my car, though it’s dying fast. It’s served me well for 138k miles, but last week I got the grim diagnosis for my mechanic that it’s terminal. The transmission is in the process of eating itself into tiny pieces and the engine is making the kinds of noises indicative of pending disaster. These problems are fixable, but only at a cost well beyond the bluebook value of the old beast.  I’m weighing that cost/benefit tension. Is it time to dump her?

The problem for me is emotional. I admit it. I love my car, with the kind of affection the Greeks called “storge” – a fond attachment which comes from associating something with precious memories and experiences. My car is familiar and comfortable and (until now) dependable. Change at this point means losing these simple comforts and “starting over” with a new relationship with yet another box of bolts. The real matter is not the car itself but the value I place on it, and that in large part comes from the rich experiences I have alone IN the car.

My life is filled with people, and the mostly good but taxing encounters people bring into my life. I value times alone because I’m at root an introvert. My car is one of the few places where I can be utterly alone. It’s my private little closet where I can think by myself, talk to myself, sing along with the radio, or hide. I really value my solitary drive times before and after a day filled with people-encounters. My car in fact is my best and most sacred “prayer closet.” I’ve had some of my most profound spiritual moments in my car. God meets me there, when I’m otherwise alone and undistracted.

Over the years I’ve developed certain patterns talking to God in my car. I drive a series of similar routes to work, to pick up my kids at their schools, to go to the store, to visit my mom. Along these familiar highways I pass familiar landmarks the repeatedly trigger familiar thoughts. Instead of letting those thoughts happen randomly, I’ve “installed” those places as triggers to remind me to pray about certain things. My car therefore takes me on both practical and spiritual journeys.

I don’t always have time to sit alone in my home office to pray. But on my way to work each morning I drive past the baseball field where my boys play each summer. I use that familiar image to remind me to pray for my boys. I pass the street where my wife’s parents live. I sometimes breath a short prayer for them. On my way to pick up my son at school in the afternoon I pass the home of a good friend who is struggling with Parkinson’s disease. That prompts me to pray for him and others I know who are ill. I pass City Hall and that triggers me to pray for government leaders and our country. Sometime I even play a kind of “game” praying for strangers in other cars. My drive time has becomes more than routine; it’s become a routine for my spiritual development.

I’m not always perfect with this, but it is a growing practice that has connected me more deeply with God, with the people in my life, and I suppose with me old car as well. When I reluctantly go buy a new one – soon – I have to remind myself that it too can and will become a “space” for moving prayer!    

This month I’m blogging about  a meditation I’ve writing called “21 Ways to Pray.” Check it out. And of course, dive in and offer your own experiences and insights.

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