Observing the Lord Jesus turning so often to prayer in his ministry, the disciples asked him to teach them to pray.  Without missing a beat, he offered them the words we have repeated so often throughout our lives and have come to know as “The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:5-15).” 

If we think about the phrases of that prayer, we come to discover a simple, yet profound, pattern to guide us in our prayer: first, acknowledge God; second, acknowledge God as the only answer to our needs.  That is what the Lord Jesus taught his disciples to do.  Pretty simple.  He offers us the same model.  For some reason, however, we tend to look for a much more complex answer.  But praying is not that hard to understand or to do.

As a seminarian many years ago, I came across a little book entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Laurence, a 17th century Carmelite monk who worked in the kitchen of his monastery.  Since that time, I have read many other books about prayer — theological, academic, liturgical, spiritual, meditative and so forth — but I keep coming back to that one.  In a collection of writings and reflections, Brother Laurence shares a discovery that supported his entire prayer life: “We should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with him.” 

Seems pretty simple, right?  But isn’t that what prayer really is, “continually conversing” with God?  In the midst of his busy kitchen’s pots and pans, Brother Laurence observes, God “does not ask much of us, merely a thought of him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for his grace, sometimes to offer him your sufferings, at other times to thank him for the graces — past and present — he has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in him as often as you can.  Lift up your heart to him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to him.  One need not cry out very loudly; he is nearer to us than we think.”

That’s the key to prayer: recognize God’s presence “nearer than we think,” always and everywhere, wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you are doing, whether you’re busy or bored, whether in a crowd or alone; in the morning when you rise, in the daytime when you are working, in the night when you go to bed, recognize God’s presence.  It’s so simple, so plain, so obvious, so true that we can take it for granted or even let it slip from our conscious mind.  Acknowledge God.  Acknowledge God as the only answer to our needs.  The lesson of the Lord’s Prayer.  Make your whole life your prayer because God is always present to you, in you, with you, for you. 

Brother Laurence gently reminds us, “We need only to recognize God intimately present with us (acknowledge God), to address ourselves to him every moment that we beg his assistance for knowing his will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see he requires of us, offering them to him before we do them and giving thanks to him when we have done them (acknowledge God as the only answer to our needs).”

Brother Laurence’s little book has made a big difference in my life and in my effort to pray, although I still have a long way to go.  Remember, his book is entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God,” and like anything worth pursuing, prayer requires practice. His advice has stayed with me over these many years and has helped me realize that prayer is not complicated or difficult but, rather, joyfully and gratefully simple. 

His is not the only voice I have heard or the only words I have read in my attempt to grow in the spiritual life.  Men and women much holier than I could ever hope to be in this world have spoken, written and witnessed more profoundly about their encounters with God in their lives than I.  And we should learn from their insights and experiences as well.  So many beautiful prayers have been written and used over the centuries, and they are a great part of the Church’s tradition and should remain part of our living spiritual treasury.   But Brother Laurence has been a constant reference point and measure for my own journey of faith to God.  And with this saintly friar, “I beg God to make me according to his heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.”  That is my prayer.