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Claire Nail brought this First Word to the meeting on Mothers Day in 2003.

Life of Prayer

First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a happy Mothers Day, and secondly I'd like to ask for your patience. I will eventually get back to Mothers Day, but if you're expecting an ode to motherhood, I say, "Bah Humbug!" You'll get enough of that today, and if you're not a mother, well, you're off the hook for a moment.

If you are a mother, you might feel guilty that you're not praying enough. Or, your mother may be making you feel guilty about not praying. At the beginning of motherhood I was mired in guilt. I had abandoned a goal, for which I had striven for since adolescence, to pray without ceasing.

As a teen, I had picked up a book by JD Salinger called, Franny and Zooey. The main character, Franny, recovering from the suicide of a beloved brother, reads about Russian monks who prays the Jesus Prayer without ceasing. Her family freaks out because Franny retires to the couch and lays there with her eyes closed praying constantly.

Maybe you already know the story - it's very good. I carried away from it the thought of praying without ceasing and asked God in an earnest to help me pray such prayers. First I tried the Jesus Prayer. "Oh lamb of God, have mercy upon me!" After many repetitions, I began to flag in my enthusiasm because my mind kept wandering, "What exactly is Christ having mercy on me for? What will his mercy do to me..." Until I was musing about how a blue tee shirt would be a really nice thing to have to go with those shorts... you know how minds go.

I began to vary my prayers. I prayed a headful of prayers, in between falling in and out of love, getting married, fighting with my husband and getting upset with my in-laws. I prayed eloquently and gained nothing from the practice, except for a mind that was inadequately focused on the tasks at hand, and a penchant for self-righteousness. After all, how many others were praying as hard as I was? Then, at 26, I had my first child.

I stopped praying without ceasing... or so I thought. I felt guilt-fully unspiritual. My petitions and repetitions of prayers were replaced with a sense of the absolute necessity to rely on God to accomplish the smallest task. I would wake up and no prayers came, only stupefied wonder as I picked up my screaming infant from the cradle and began the practice of attention to the matters at hand: diapers, mashed bananas and rice cereal - and laundry, tons of laundry. I often cried tears of tenderness, because I felt so much mercy for this little baby, the man who delivered our bottled water, the paper boy, and especially for my own poor mother, whom I had to forgive as I muddled through my prayer-less days.

In spite of myself, and my failings, my life was becoming a prayer. Prayer without ceasing is not an easy thing... not because so much time is spent in prayer, but because so much of life becomes a prayer. I started to see God in the weirdest places, in the redemptive value of a compost heap! I became painfully aware of the selfishness and cruelties around me, including my own. I had to call on God for healing daily. God is completely accessible - it's just necessary to clear the air enough to breathe in and out and be loved - I expect in time I will learn to love others as God loves me.

When I feel connection with God in the moment, I am praying. When I invest all my being into paying attention, I am praying. When I start to live automatically, selfishly, and without regard for myself or others, I am not praying, at least not so well. So, I guess this gets us back to the beginning - I started to learn this with motherhood. Happy Mothers Day. Amen!