I talk a lot about prayer in my life, and you may talk a good deal about
prayer in yours. But let’s be honest: we’re pretty lousy at praying, at
least in the fullest sense of the term. I don’t mean this as an
indictment of some rich spirituality that is in us. Our prayer lives are
just so far from what they could be.
In one of the most famous sermons ever delivered, John Donne described the challenge of retaining concentration during prayer. The year was 1626. The occasion was the funeral sermon for Sir William Cockayne.
An impoverished doctor in an Alpine valley of hearty people, lures a naive country boy into his examining room, shows him frightening anatomical charts of the mysteries within, and awakens fears about hiccups and hair loss, acne and gas pains. According to this old French fable, the boy leaves clutching a bottle of medicine and carrying alarming stories to pass along.
When Pandora opens the box that contains all the world’s evils, they immediately fly away, destined to plague humankind for eternity. She is able to replace the top just in time to save only hope. But why was hope among the evils in the first place?
As a pastor in New York City, I've found myself challenged to think more deeply about “stuff." I've come to believe that the truth about what we too casually name “materialism” is not so simple. It ought to be clear, after all, that God doesn’t hate stuff. Witness the creation story. God invents stuff. At the end of each of six days, God engages in self-congratulation, pronouncing serial evening benedictions on the stuff created that day: “Good!”
Søren Kierkegaard, 19th-century Danish philosopher, would not be impressed with our busyness today. “Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me to be busy—to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work . . . What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done?” Stephen Evans, Baylor University philosopher, says Kierkegaard saw busyness as a distraction from the really important questions of life, such as who we are and what life is for (Quartz, April 16).