I recently had the distinct privilege of speaking to a very eclectic group in Birmingham, England. I was asked to speak to a group on prayer— a group that was comprised of sweet British ladies who practiced contemplative prayer; refugees from the Congo, Rwanda, and all sorts of asylum seekers; and all the wonderful and genteel people that made up the parishes of Birmingham. I had just completed a four day tour of Wales, in which I, in no particular order:
Drove through sheep fields to reach the tree house I had rented (photos below!)
Raced on single-lane roads through the mountains (no guard rail + racecar-driver friend = thrilling/terrifying ride)
Stopped our car about 17 times for sheep crossing, Welsh woolly horse crossings, and cows sitting in the middle of the road
Discovered new destinations on a whim: road sign for Ystradfellte? Let’s go! Fifth century church (rebuilt in the 12th century by Cistercians, while the country was still deeply Catholic), sixteenth century pub (original stone walls and wood-burning stove, waited on by a Welsh millennial who had no interest in leaving the valley), and a two-bedroom Bed & Breakfast run by a little old lady who is “getting too old for this”, but was happy to give us a look around.
Soaked in a bathtub, set in the ground, in 36 degree chill (that’s 2 degrees Centigrade, people), in the middle of nowhere, watching the Leonid meteor shower.
Rediscovered the pyro-love of my ten-year-old self, while burning through 56 candles trying to warm the kitchen shack next to the treehouse, which we discovered did not have heating
Squished sand between my toes and dipped them in the Irish Sea, while talking about life direction and where our inner stirrings might be leading us
Ate three servings of fish and chips, about four different meat pies (the beef and ale one was my favorite), and some surprisingly rich and savory pasta in a town I can’t remember the name of (We couldn’t pronounce the names, anyway: most of them looked like Llfnwdy and Cwmwstwyth, so we sounded a lot like this when trying to navigate or communicate)
Huffed and puffed up shale mountains covered in the sponge-like heather, to be rewarded with some of the most magnificent views I have ever seen
In the midst of all this hilarity and adventure, I was aware of the fact that, at some point, I needed to gather my thoughts for the talk I was about to give. I had jotted down some ideas before leaving the US, but the words hadn’t settled into me yet.
In the mornings I would pause to just be. Some might call this prayer or meditation, but it seems even simpler than that. Within that space I’d try consulting my inner knowing, opening a place for the divine to speak— but nothing came. I couldn’t force it. So I’d just be, and let my concerns float into the chilly Welsh sky.
I’d tell my traveling partner, “We should talk through my talk at some point.” “Sure, whenever,” he’d reply. But whenever never really felt right.
What’s the deal? I’d think at No One in Particular. How am I supposed to put the Ineffable into words?
How to say something important and meaningful about prayer? There are tomes and teachers and traditions reaching back thousands of years on the topic. You can ask any pastor, guru, or churchgoer for their explanation. But none of these adequately touch the Reality.
For me, the Reality is closer to wonder than it is to formalized rituals.
It’s closer to that supreme moment of intimacy between lovers or friends, when you feel deeply known, and seen.
It’s closer to that comfort, when, after other attempts at cheering or fixing, someone wise and whole enough is simply with you in your pain.
It’s closer to that gasp of air, when, after panting up a Welsh mountain for 90 minutes, through heather and ferns and waterfalls, you come around a bend and are met with a towering rock face that shoots into the heavens, with a dark moat at its base that says “this place is too sacred to approach.”
Instead of speaking, you fall to your knees.
Instead of selecting appropriate words, you breathe “thank you.”
Instead of conducting a speech, your heart expands to the size of the universe.
And that, my friends, is prayer enough.