Prayer without ceasing through the Psalms

When St. Paul says to “pray without ceasing,” I think to myself, “That’s all well and good for you, St. Paul, but I am just a regular person.” I have carpool and Costco and an overflowing calendar. Besides, sometimes I am too mad to pray. Some-times I am too lonely to pray. And sometimes, let’s be honest, I am just too stubborn to pray.

I turn to the psalms to guide me, hoping I will uncover language for the things I cannot voice myself. I read “Answer me when I call” (4:2) or “How long must I carry sorrow in my soul?” (13:3) and find the words sound awfully familiar — they sound like me.

Writer Paul E. Miller says, “The psalmist was in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty.”

That’s me. Feisty.

As I read through the psalms, what I notice is the intimacy. The intimacy I have with my husband or children isn’t polite or businesslike. Our intimacy comes from having been vulnerable and messy in front of each other — and knowing we are still loved.

This is what I see in the psalms. The psalmist cries out when they are mad, lonely or stubborn. They also call out when they are repentant, grateful or just plain delighted. The psalmist is exposed and honest with God — and they know they are loved.

I start to observe various types of prayer: supplication — asking God for a favor; contrition — asking for forgiveness; thanksgiving — showing God gratitude; and adoration — praising God.

I realize that when the psalmist is venting anger, or expressing loneliness, they are really asking that God take that feeling away. It is a prayer of supplication.

I begin to practice this intimacy, reminding myself that I don’t have to be anyone but me when I come to God. We will never be intimate if I pretend I am someone else.

I call out to him in my loneliness in the morning, borrowing words from the psalmist — “I am poor and needy” (86:1) — until I find my own words, until I sense him there listening. Then he can’t keep me quiet! I’m praying for my sick friend, sharing my hope for a project I’m working on, and then complaining about a sour friendship, all on the way back from school drop-off.

As I answer work emails at lunch, I remember the silly song my sons were singing that morning and I whisper a quick prayer of thanks, for the silliness, for the song, for the smile, for my sons. Before dinner, I take a quick run along Lake Washington and watch a heron stretch her legs while ducks swim streaks into the lapping water. I am in awe of a God who would create all this beauty, and I pray prayers of adoration for who he is.

As days pass, I find I am not as lonely. I’ve been sharing an intimacy with God as I share my days with him, and I realize this is what St. Paul meant about praying without ceasing — to ask, to hope, to dream.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - January/February 2020

Shemaiah Gonzalez

Shemaiah Gonzalez, a member of St. James Cathedral Parish, is a freelance writer with degrees in English literature and intercultural ministry. Find more of her writing at shemaiahgonzalez.com.
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Shemaiah Gonzalez, miembro de la parroquia de la Catedral de Saint James, es escritora independiente con diplomas en Literatura inglesa y Ministerio Intercultural. Puedes encontrar más de sus redacciones en: shemaiahgonzalez.com.