Personal Essays · Stories

The tradition of prayer

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From the title you might be led to think that the stuff of this post is going to be something ephemeral, abstract, and perhaps not to your taste, as the idea of prayer often is to many people—including, sometimes, me.

Moreover, it’s Christmas—a season I recently heard described as the season of Christian joy and secular madness; an occasion to celebrate one of the greatest mysteries of the universe, and yet becomes particularly  difficult, perhaps even impossible, to have a moment of peace and quiet, let alone pray. Spiritual obligations often get usurped by material ones, and it takes extra effort to find time to remember and give thanks for the Reason why we celebrate at all. But this week I was reminded that the effort is worth it.

For one thing, there are the nativity scenes that blossom in every church and in many homes as well. When was the last time you peered into the stable to see the Child nestled in his bed of straw? Some scenes are simple, like the ones my family always had at home—a few figures clustered around a single focal point: the baby in the manger. Others are quite elaborate. I remember a great-aunt of mine whose belen took up nearly half of her living room. She set up mountains, villages, even a sandy desert (complete with tents, caravans, and an oasis). It took some time to find the holy family in their humble hut.  For us children it was great entertainment. Only now do I realize that there is a higher purpose to the nativity scene than to evoke smiles of delight and warm fuzzy feelings.

The truth is, Christmas is all about materialism: the positive kind, which points the way to what is truly lasting, beautiful, and good. I invite you to think of the gifts we give each other, the lights and decorations we put up, the feasts of special dishes…and then draw your own conclusions. Perhaps you might even find yourself drawn into prayer.

As for me, I’ve resolved that every time I’m tempted to think that talking to God is something ephemeral, abstract, and altogether too difficult, I’ll just steal away to gaze at the Child in his crib.

Have a blessed Christmas!

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