Do you know the word serendipity? It means surprise. It’s an unexpected moment. It’s when something amazing and delightful happens by chance. It is, for example, when although one is not looking to fall in love, the right set of circumstances collide and love blooms. Surprise!
One day my wife showed up unexpectedly at my work with a T-shirt that said “Rookie Dad.” It was her way of saying she was pregnant. Surprise!
Serendipity, with all of those unseen forces behind it, is a fitting way to describe how God works with us in prayer.
From the human side, sometimes prayer wells up, bringing comfort and assurance, while other times prayer feels like work, trudging in sweat and tears through mud to place of need at the feet of The Divine.
One might pray, “God, send us a baby.” Another might exclaim, “Help me Jesus!” in a time of crisis. Or another might offer a spontaneous “thanks” when encountering a simple gift of beauty. Prayer opens one up to the possibility of unexpected joy and grace.
God often moves in surprising ways when we pray.
My friend Louis observes, “God doesn’t come when I call him, but he’s right on time.”
Prayer is mysterious. Don’t ever let anyone oversimplify prayer, reduce it or diminish it such that it loses its dynamic and wonderful power.
In The Summer Day, the poet Mary Oliver writes, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done?”
In prayer, one pays attention — attention to what is happening inside and around. This, I believe, is the purpose of prayer. It’s about quality time, as well as brief, intermittent moments in the presence of God, who is different, separate, A Mystery.
Prayer requires deep listening and humility prior to action. To say, “God told me to do ____,” is no trifling matter. Beware of anyone who proclaims this with frequency. (God’s voice doesn’t sound like Morgan Freeman. Sometimes it is as light as a feather, sometimes as loud as thunder. It is unpredictable and soothing and beautiful and frightening and often hard to hear.)
William Law says in A Serious Call To A Holy and Devout Life, “Prayer is not really about words. Prayer is the movement of the heart.” Every time you feel a stirring to talk to God, to reach for God, to request from God, that is the heart moving toward the great Something More.
In a fearful, anxious world where everything is scheduled, mapped-out and overanalyzed, I long for more of those serendipitous moments. I want to kneel in the grass, to be idle and blessed, and to know that when I pray, with great faith or with trembling doubt, some unexpected movement is just around the bend.