One of the most popular misconceptions of the Christian faithful is that they are forever praying. In my own experience I have found this to be rather far from the truth. Being woken at four o’clock in the morning by my Muslim roommates at an interfaith conference some years ago I was asked, in all sincerity, by a Muslim friend why Christians don’t pray. ‘We do pray,’ I replied. ‘We pray without ceasing, as Saint Paul saith.’ Other than our Sunday celebration we retire into the privacy of our rooms and pray where only our Father can hear us. This at least is the script. The reality is that many Christians, myself included, struggle to pray – even when we are celebrating the Eucharist. I know a great many Christians, but I would hazard a guess that very few of them pray. Functional atheism is almost the default setting of modern, Western Christianity. I won’t condemn anyone for this, because I fear that I may be one of the greatest offenders. For years this inactivity of my soul has bothered me, and I have experimented with a number of methods of prayer, I have tried and failed to be regular at prayer. Since my brief stay in the hospital something has changed.
I came to the personal realisation that it was pointless. For two decades my prayer has been a monologue craving a dialogue that has never come, and that will never come. Anxiety and the fear of the unknown motivated my prayer while in hospital. Our Fathers and Hail Marys, beautiful though they were, were only keeping my mind occupied; it was quite literally lip service to soulfulness – mere spirituality. Talking to God was getting me nowhere. Every moment of my prayer was taken up with my mental and vocal chatter. God couldn’t get a word in even if he wanted to, and I think that this has always been the way. In those moments of my distress, whether they were real or perceived, I decided to shut up and listen. It was prayer without words, without thoughts, without Object, without requests, and without petitions; nothing – only silence. It was pointless, and that was the point. There was no divine voice; all the graven images of god melted into darkness, and all of my needs became illusions. The changeable me was sick and among other sick people, but the unchanging I was watching and listening. It was this insight that me and I are not the same that was the fruit of the pointless meditation. I am at peace no matter what becomes of me.