by Michael Maciel
My wife refuses to wear a Bluetooth device when using her cell phone. She also doesn’t like to hold her phone next to her head, so she wears earbuds instead. When I call her, I can tell right away if I’m getting her and not just her voicemail, because I can hear the rustling sounds of her putting her earbuds into her ears. I get to relish the fact that I have connected with her and not just her phone.
It reminds me of the old days before answering machines, when all we had was land lines, the kind of phones that were attached to the wall with a heavy cord. Phones weighed several pounds and were usually black. The headset was large and felt warm against your ear. It had a close, personal feel made even more personal by the way you could hear your own voice coming back at you through the earpiece, the way you can hear yourself when you speak. This made it possible to express the most subtle emotions with the tone of your voice, the way you can when you’re lying next to the person you love with your lips close to their ear. It was marvelously intimate.
Prayer is like that. Contacting God is just like contacting someone on one of these old phones – you know you’ve made the connection before the person on the other end of the line says anything. You can feel it. When they pick up, your hearing is suddenly made larger, extended to someplace else, somewhere far away, and you know that even in the silence before your conversation begins that the one receiving your call is aware of you and is just waiting for you to say those magic words: “Hey, it’s me.”
The very thought of reaching out to God is your phone call. And God always picks up on the first ring. Thinking about God as though God were a person (imagine that!) and not just some kind of cosmic wireless network is an intimate act. You’re connecting with someone. It’s very different from merely leaving a message. Voicemail is impersonal, especially when the outgoing message isn’t the person’s voice but an automated one that the carrier provides, which feels more like leaving a note on the refrigerator, or worse yet on a public bulletin board.
But placing a call to God isn’t like that. Getting God on the line feels like walking into a church or a temple. It’s a sacred space that feels big, the way a blind person can tell when they suddenly enter an auditorium. An inner door opens and you step in. What happens next is what this conversation is all about.
What do you say? Sometimes, you don’t say anything. That’s called meditation. You make the connection, and then you just bask in it. You’re aware of God, and God is aware of you. Nothing needs to be said. God’s presence feels like a fine incense permeating you, filling you with a holy, wordless message, like a divine download. You know you’re getting something, but you have no idea what it is, only that it’s good. This kind of connection we should make every day, sometimes twice a day. The more you establish it, the more you can’t do without it.
But with prayer, the idea is to say something, to begin a dialog, even if it’s simply to say hello. But it’s not just a message. It’s more intimate than that. It’s like when you call someone special on the phone, and when they answer, you turn your back on everyone else in the room so that you can have a private conversation. It’s that close. And when you call that special someone, you don’t have to say, “Hey, I just wanted to thank you for being in a relationship with me.” That would sound a little stiff. No, the fact that you’re calling is a clear signal of your appreciation, the way you might say, “Hi, beautiful.” But that kind of closeness with God comes with practice, the same way it does with another person. There’s a warming-up process – not a routine, but a rhythm.
It’s this word “rhythm” that best describes a good relationship with God. “Routine” is fine, but rhythm implies partnership. A dance routine is one thing, but dance partners have something special. The word “partner” has a broader meaning, too, as in “life partners,” the kind of relationship where both parties rely on each other to fill a certain space in their lives. Too often, we think of our relationship with God as a child-to-parent arrangement. But a partnership is much more exciting. A partnership means that you are never alone. If you believe in some of the deeper teachings that say that God created us in order to know himself, then you can say along with Meister Eckhart, “God needs me.” And that’s the essence of partnership – both parties need each other.
But need each other for what? In a relationship, just hanging out can be fun, but partnership spans a whole lot more. Partnership engages all aspects of life, not just gazing into each other’s eyes. Partnership allows us to share our day-to-day living, and not just the routines but the hopes and dreams as well. Partnership thrives on the what’s possible, on a shared vision and long range goals. It’s the “shared” part that’s important. When the foundation of your prayers is a shared vision, one that you share with God, then your life becomes a creative venture, and your prayers will reflect that. When you pray, it won’t be just for things that you need, but for conditions that will allow for greater creativity. After all, we are “co-creators,” are we not? The “co-” means we’re partners – not master and slave, king and subject. It’s when we realize that God has every bit as much to gain out of our relationship as we do that life gets really, really good!
Consider it this way: If you wanted to see the country, would you rather drive a car or ride a bus? In a car, you get to choose which routes you will take. On a bus, you go where it goes, period. The purpose of a bus ride is simply to get to your final destination. Well, God’s will is either a car or a bus. Which way do you see it? If you see it as a car, your life will be creative and fulfilling. If it’s a bus, then life will be little more than a routine, a way to get to heaven when you die. Life devolves into a thing to be endured, not enjoyed. No one on a bus actually expects the trip to be enjoyable. And who wants to partner up with someone who sees life as a test of endurance?
Strangely enough, that’s how many people understand “God’s will,” and so that’s how they pray. They’re constantly feeling bad about wanting to get off the bus. They beat their chests and beg for forgiveness. And if they don’t do this consciously, it nevertheless forms the backdrop of their relationship with God. They see their life as inherently wrong, and God becomes someone who is impossible to please. Who can love such a person? Can I follow all the rules? Can I behave? Will I do what’s expected of me? Such thoughts are the antithesis of a creative life.
Don’t you think that there might be another way to approach life, one that is empowering and life-affirming and doesn’t treat your time here on Earth as a kind of probation? Is it wrong to feel joy or excitement or fulfillment? How about pride? In a partnership, pride, especially pride in accomplishment, is shared, and is therefore a good thing. When we partner up with God, and we do it creatively and not as though God were an employer or our parent, then we can’t help but feel proud when our visions and our dreams come to fruition. Together with God we can say, “Look what we did!” There is no greater satisfaction.
In order for prayer to be alive, it must be creative. Get this, and you will never have trouble praying again. Prayer will become as natural to you as getting up in the morning. It’s one thing to say, “Thank you, God,” when you pray. It’s much better to approach God with your “thank-yous” built in. It’s like closing your eyes and going within, and in that vast inner space looking at the All and saying, “Hey, beautiful!” No one is the totality of God. But then, who would want to be? It’s always better to have a partner whose assets are greater than yours.