I sat in the last pew in my parish church. Praying, enfolded in the syrupy warmth of a late summer day, alone except for God, and the spirits of all those who’d prayed here before me. The light of the presence lamp danced in the dimness of the sanctuary, ivory walls smudged with color from the stained-glass windows. Cicadas buzzed, my phone did not.
Prayer in this space seemed to be as simple as breathing. Like the prophetess Anna, who Luke tells us never left the temple, I longed to stay here, caught up in beauty, in prayer—caught up in God—for the rest of my days. Instead I went home and made dinner.
As I chopped vegetables I thought of a scene in the film Into Great Silence, which chronicles a year in a Carthusian monastery high in the Alps. A monk is chopping celery in silence, awash in light from the kitchen window. The thunk of his knife on the well-worn cutting board echoes the rhythm of the psalms the monks chant day in and day out, making a prayer of the ordinary.
I worry that I want prayer to be an extraordinary experience. That I want to keep prayer reserved to sacred spaces, to come to prayer completely tidy, my metaphorical counters cleared and the dishes washed, not up to my elbows in suds facing a sinkful of pots. I want to be eloquent, I want to be silent and composed before the Creator of all things, I want to be wholly present. I want to be holy.
But I suspect God is unbothered by the awkwardness of my prayers or the unpretentious surroundings in which I make them. God is as delighted to join me in the kitchen amid the potato peelings and unwashed pots as he is to find me quiet and still before the tabernacle. As Teresa of Avila wryly told her Carmelite sisters, “entre los pucheros anda el Señor.” If you are in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans. Whether in the temple like Anna or in the kitchen like St. Teresa, God besieges us.
As extraordinary as it is to be drawn into a relationship with the immanent and transcendent Triune God, prayer is meant to be an ordinary part of our lives. Like the making of dinner and doing the dishes, it is what sustains us. In his short book The Need and the Blessing of Prayer, theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, advises, “Pray in the everyday; pray the everyday.”
Like the desert fathers who wove baskets to the simple rhythm of the Jesus prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me—ask for mercy as you peel the potatoes, place yourself in the presence of God as you fold the laundry. Say grace before your midmorning cup of coffee, trace the sign of the cross on your child’s forehead before they go to sleep. Bless the ordinary moments, every day.
And perhaps then we can be like Anna, praying night and day in the temple of this world, knowing every space holy, every moment sacred.