With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.
Most people pray on their knees, with their hands clasped or pressed together, with their eyes closed. At least, this is the “traditional” form of prayer that one may imagine when one thinks of the word “prayer.” The kneeling is supposed show reverence, the clasped hands are supposed to show commitment and desire, and the closed eyes are supposed to shut out the outside world and focus your attention on God. The last part is the one I have the most trouble with.
In general, I am not good at focusing my attention. When I need to do work, I generally do try to block out the exterior world with music or a closed space so I can focus. But for me, prayer is not some chore that I can only accomplish if I’m focused. When I’ve gone through a day like this, my mind tends to accumulate a lot of distracting thoughts and ideas that I am forced to shove aside. I cannot see God when I close my eyes, so when I do, my attention will shift away from prayer and I will instead start to think of those things that I have shoved aside. Naturally, this isn’t how I would like to talk to God. So, instead, I pray with my eyes open.
Praying with my eyes open forces me to meet the world in all its challenges face-on, instead of hiding in a falsely secure darkness. When my troubles are staring me in the face, it’s much easier to describe them to God and ask for mercy and guidance. Sometimes I see a homeless person on the street and pray for God to help them. If I shut my eyes, the person becomes less real, and my mind can fool itself into ignoring him or her, because I can’t see them. But when my eyes are open, I can see their misery, and my empathy is so much stronger, which allows me to make a sharper, more acute plea to God for His grace.
But praying with my eyes open does more than help me face my challenges and create a better prayer. I believe that only when my eyes are open can I see the glory of God. When I close my eyes, I cannot see the beautiful flowers that grow from the Earth, or the beautiful blue sky filled with impossibly soft clouds, or the luscious green grass, or the stars that shine from infinity. Only when my eyes are open can I appreciate the raw power, the raw beauty, the magnificence, the glory of God. God’s work is all around us, and we take so precious little time to appreciate it. There is wonder and amazement to be found everywhere, from the incredibly small to the incomparably enormous. Even in the city, the bustle of people, the towering skyscrapers, and the intricate systems that fill daily life can leave me in awe.
If you do not feel any closer to God when you pray with your eyes closed, then I encourage you to open your eyes and stare directly into the face of God. As for the other conventions of prayer, toss them to the wind. Pray lying on your back in a field, staring up at the clouds or the stars with blades of grass between your fingers. Pray standing at a crosswalk, holding your briefcase, as people and cars move by you. Climb a tree and pray in it, with a firm hand on the bark. When you see a person in need, pray as you drop a dollar into their hands and look into their face, smiling. When you stumble across a beautiful place, pray there. Pray out loud. Shout your prayers, sing your prayers. Pray when you ride a roller coaster and are screaming at the top of your lungs.
And always, always, always remember to be thankful.
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