Teach Me How to Pray

The afternoon sun illuminated the undulating mounds of the summertime ski slope. I paused as the rest of my family continued the hike and turned to survey the valley below. We had climbed so far — halfway to the sky, it seemed to me. I felt like Heidi in the Swiss Alps, light years away from the mundane world of the city. I was alone, truly alone, even as I heard the voices of my parents and sisters above me. Yet I wasn’t alone at all. I was part of everything and everything was part of me. I stood in wonder, reveling in the completeness of this one shining moment. The sun was warm on my face. The good smell of earth filled my nostrils. A slight breeze moved through the grasses. Everything mattered. We all belonged.

Teach me how to pray. Alone on another hillside, fifty years from the earlier one. I’ve climbed up from the campground below, following an overgrown spur to a trail blocked by fallen trees. The humidity of this rainy June presses against me, feeling like weight against my bare skin. I crouch and crawl through the tumble of logs and pick my way past them onto the trail. I see the same sights that so excited me when I was here several years before — grey tufted moss hanging from the trees, yellow cactus flowers blooming. They don’t seem so special to me now. I am hot and tired, worn, cranky. I sit on a rock, my little dog at my feet.

Teach me how to pray. It’s been a confusing year for me. My sense of spirit, of presence, of God — of that which exists beyond words or knowing — has been shaken to the core. I’ve been in conversation with something beyond myself for as long as I’ve had conscious thought. Now I wonder if anything is there at all — and if there is, if it doesn’t properly belong inside me, if it isn’t time to bring back the projection of God to the is-ness of human experience. Yet I thrive on the practice of devotion. It’s a good fit for me, a form of worship that allows me to surrender my own limited perspective to something More.

Teach me how to pray. It doesn’t seem so important anymore to find one cohesive system of thought, so disrespectful to mix modalities. I turn to Mother Earth, to the brothers and sisters of trees and woodland creatures, to Jesus, whoever or whatever that might be. “Do you even exist at all?” I say aloud. To pray in the face of not knowing might be the most powerful prayer.

Teach me how to pray.