Many of our campers and staff ask how they can grow in prayer away from Kahdalea and Chosatonga, so here I offer a few brief reflections on a sub-tenet of one of CKC’s core values, “Take the time to pray”.
The author, monk, and mystic Thomas Merton was once asked what the single most important thing about prayer might be. “Take the time“, was Merton’s response.
In the busyness of of our modern world we see how easily time is wasted on things that are less important than prayer. Work, various forms of entertainment, music, podcasts, sports, social media, and the demands of family life each may have a place in the hierarchy of goods in our lives. But nothing, according to Jesus in the Gospels, is as essential to an abundant and joyful life than prayer and our relationship with God.
What does prayer have to do with summer camp?
Jesus teaches that we are all children of God, and in John 17 Jesus prays that all of us may all share his joy. Again in John 10:10 Jesus says he has come that we may have life, and life in abundance! At camp, we hope to point our staff and campers in the direction of “abundant life”. Our adventurous activities and our fun and encouraging community have a part to play here, but nothing builds happier hearts than putting them in contact with God, the father of happiness and the creator of life itself. God made our hearts and knows exactly what each of his children need in every season. In talking with him about our lives in prayer we become less afraid and more in love. No one is happier than people who have great love in their hearts (this statement is also confirmed by a 70+ year study on happiness conducted at Harvard)! That’s why CKC encourages and teaches prayer. How can we be in love if we are not connected to the source of love? So, let us begin.
At camp, prayer is often a natural response to the visions of natural beauty, the quiet moments woven throughout the day, the love campers and staff encounter with other members of CKC, and the reflections on offer in Morning Watch, Chapel, Campfire, Friendship Council, Morning Inspiration, etc. All of these things are good and provide a meaningful setting in which prayer can take place. Prayer, however, much like the communion between a husband and a wife, is something we choose to cultivate steadily throughout our lives out of love. The beauty of creation, silence, and rich community may make it easier to pray, but time for prayer still must be chosen in order to give God room to lead us and form us as he sees fit. That’s the thing about prayer; we either do it or we don’t.
We must not be naive to the fact that there are other voices competing for our attention. Prayer allows our loving Father’s voice to be the loudest voice we hear.
Why prayer and happiness are linked
In this day and age, there is compelling psychological and social scientific evidence for the benefits of a good prayer life. Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine and host of “The Huberman Lab” podcast, recently spoke on the positive effects of prayer on the brain. Prayer, Huberman asserts, brings our brain activity into the neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for creativity, safe and constructive thought, and gratitude among other things. Well adjusted and properly integrated personalities operate principally out of this part of the brain. Authentic prayer is an activity that encourages surrender to God’s loving power; this allows us to be less anxious as well as more secure, confident, and wholehearted. This act of humility gives us a grounded perspective and shifts our cognitive stance primarily to the neocortex.
In classical language, prayer begins in man’s conscience. The conscience is unique to each person and it is a secure space in our psyche, a “sanctuary” from the dangers and confusion of the world and a space where one can rest. Modern studies from the American Psychological Association and the National Institutes of Health have attempted to explore the reasons why people who practice regular prayer report higher levels of happiness, enjoyment, creativity, gratitude, pain tolerance, connection with God and others, and peace. Who doesn’t want to experience these things? If we commit ourselves to prayer, we have the opportunity to gain so many good things simply because we’re putting ourselves in the presence of our loving God, whose very presence is overflowing with goodness and blessings.
How do I pray?
Simply take the time to pray. It does not have to be a long process – we’re going for quality here. What matters is that we try it. God is never disappointed with our best effort, so let us give it our best attempt to speak with him as we would with a friend. In this practice, we recognize how good it is to try to draw close to God and to stir up a desire in our hearts to know him. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Practically, a Bible, a journal, and a quiet, undistracted space are great ingredients to a prayer time. The ancient practice of “Lectio Divina” (divine reading) is something I’ve found helpful. I read scripture until something jumps out at me, then I copy it down, and finally I pray with that scripture and write out whatever comes to mind and heart. If you are looking for a place to start, perhaps give that a try! I find the Holy Spirit has a lot to say when we incline our ear towards the gospels. Our minds are the least active and the most open in the morning, before the busyness of the day. I prefer to pray in the mornings, but prayer is available to us at all times and in all places!
What if I don’t want to pray?
An occasional aversion to prayer is to be expected and it is a part of our humanity. Sometimes, we are reluctant to pray because we are lazy. The desire to skip prayer is not unlike wanting to skip a jog or a workout! Even though I would rather just eat moose tracks ice cream for dinner and avoid the vegetables entirely, I do it because it is good for me and will ultimately make me much happier. I am not doing myself or anyone else any favors by avoiding the spiritual nutrition and grounding reality of prayer in my life.
A final word
Whatever your previous experience with prayer may be, remember this: 1) prayer is intensely personal, like a friendship with someone you’re in love with, 2) this friendship is designed to be fun, enriching, and life giving, 3) there are as many paths of prayer as there are those who pray, but the same Holy Spirit unites them all. It is ok if the way you pray looks a little different from how other folks pray. What matters is that it is honest, it comes from your own heart, and during prayer you allow your entire being to assume its natural position of worship. Let us experiment with prayer – treat it like an experiement! – and see what fruits are born in our lives as a result!
As Anne Trufant often says, ask God to mess with you 🙂 Our loving Father will not spurn such an honest and open invitation for him to enter our lives. And remember, have fun!