There is this moment that changes everything for me. I only became aware of it in recent months. Or maybe I actually shifted my practice in recent months without being aware of it.
Those of us in church ministry are exposed to many opportunities to pray, sometimes several times a day. If a committee or task force is true to their mission, they will often open and close meetings with prayer. Quite honestly, if one is not careful these prayers can become so routine that they get tuned out as if it’s just one more agenda item to check off the list.
But I have noticed something recently. There is a profound moment just before a prayer starts that seems to change my world—or at least my lens on the world.
As soon as the prayer says, “Let us pray,” my muscles relax, my energy drops from my head to my heart, my breath becomes deeper, and my eyes, even though closed, soften. It seems I enter a liminal space and everything in my head disappears, even if just for a brief moment.
I am amazed at how quickly my body responds to these words. It is the same visceral response that I feel when I walk into a room where fresh baked chocolate chip cookies are cooling; or seeing a baby burst out giggling; or coming around a bend and being flooded by an effervescent full moon.
I am sure that my response has been trained into me after decades of professional church life and work. Another person who hears those words for the first time might feel more of an awkwardness than the calming, centering, grounding effect it has on my body.
I am struck by how simple it is to change my lens on the world. In the same time that it takes to breathe one deep breath I am able to shift from the anxiety of trying to get everything done to the calmness that reminds me that Presence is all that is needed. Prayer, or at the least call to prayer is magically, mysteriously powerful.
Fifteen years ago I was serving a church that was in the very awkward space of facing an unknown future—closure, new church development, or legacy. Many of the leaders in the church wanted a plan in order to ease their anxiety. Repeatedly, I reminded them that the most faithful thing they could do at that moment was simply to “breathe and trust.” I couldn’t promise them a certain future, but I could try to teach them to trust.
Not long after that we had a church consultant work with us on the necessary steps to discern our future. As we listened to her we kept checking off the boxes, “Yep, did that, did that, did that.” She went through about eight different tasks all of which we had done except one, “Commit to a period of community prayer.”
That’s all we needed to hear. It changed our lens and over the next three months we quit doing all kinds of stuff and simply paused long enough to pray. And that pause changed our world and the trajectory of the church. I am in this position today because of what I learned from that experience.
After I concluded my work there, two of the leaders gave me a gift as a reminder of our work together. What they told me was, “The most important thing we learned from you, Brian, was to just stop and breathe and trust.” I didn’t get accolades for coming up with a watertight plan. I didn’t get a special award for some great accomplishment. What I received was a simple kitchen tile thanking me for teaching them to breathe.
Prayer is the pause that changes the world.
Seriously, might it be that simple?
Let us pray…
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades