It’s time to wrap up this series of ti morceaux, which have focused on aids to prayer. Over many weeks we have considered posture and gesture, accessories like candles, icons, and incense, and so forth. In the last two morceaux, music has been emphasized, both by singing and listening.
The final accessories to prayer I’m going to mention include two favorites of our late beloved Bishop (and pastor here!) Stanley Joseph Ott. Paraphrasing a saying often-attributed to the great 20th century Protestant theologian Karl Barth, Bishop Ott often used to say that “When we pray, we need to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other!”
Actually the Holy Bible, which is the very Word of God Himself, is an essential and not just an accessory, to prayer. If we stray from the Lord’s values and priorities, His commandments and preferences, we will be wasting time, pretending to pray. The Scriptures remind us how much we need God and His mercy. This is truly good news, that He loves us and desires nothing for us except that which is ultimately best for us.
Yet the newspaper and other news media – and to this nowadays we have to add even social media, I suppose – also needs to inform our prayer. We encounter much tragedy in the world today, and in others’ lives. This helps focus our prayers for those challenged by these problems, and for their intentions. Often prayer is all we can offer for those afar off, or beset by insoluble difficulties. Although a bit less common, the news media also exposes us to beauty and “good news” that we otherwise would never know about. This helps us give thanks, and rejoice in the splendor of God’s creation. We cannot live in some sort of spiritual ivory tower, uninterested and disconnected from those around us, and from the needs of our world. To do so would be a choice for selfishness – honestly, a choice against God.
And here I’ll add an invention that hit the market in 1979, the year I was ordained: the Post-It™ note. Yes, along with a pen it’s an important thing to have nearby. For example, I keep little lists on sticky notes of personal prayer-intentions: things I’ve noticed in the newspaper and want to pray about, as well as long lists of people and intentions that I’ve been asked to pray for and want to pray for. Whether stuck in my Bible or Liturgy of the Hours, or on the bathroom mirror, these notes remind me of the good and the bad, the needy and the forgotten, all of which needs to be at the center of my relationship with the Lord. I recommend this simple approach very highly to you, too!