I had a little treat today. I had £50 of book tokens to spend. I tried to spend them the other day but after half an hour of wandering aimlessly around Waterstones I left empty handed (apart from my two £25 tokens!) I guess I just wasn't in the mood for picking or choosing. Today, though, I was more amiable in my amblings and, clutching my bag, I wound my way from Waterstones to pick my way through the first of the books (finding myself, as I did, in O' Neil's for a quick Guinness and the first chapter). Reading, for me, is quite a sporadic occupation. I can read book after book after book, even at times finding myself having more than one book on the go, and other times I can go for weeks or months without turning a page. I have learned to be content with this: it's just the way I am!
It strikes me, too, that the way I read is often the way I pray. There can be times when prayer is like a page turner, an eager flick through the leaves that lie waiting to be devoured, craving the moments sneaked through the day when I can delve into those dark, deep, lovely moments of being alone with God. And other times it is laboured and languid, accompanied by little enthusiasm or devotion and sometimes missed altogether. I have learned to be content with this: it's just the way I am! Prayer is something that's so often spoken about and written about (I'm doing it now!) and read with eager longing, like looking through a cookery book, your juices flowing and craving the delights that lie within and which could so easily be brought to life with a little work and a few ingredients. The French priest Michel Quoist once wrote a prayer that contained the words 'so that all of life becomes prayer.' Yes, we do need those times aside, I know, those ordered, organised, ordinary times of flicking through the pages or delving into something deeper but it's only in order that the whole of life becomes prayer. Prayer is an attitude of life, a spiritual awareness and an openness to God that pervades and embraces the whole of our being. Not that the ideal of the latter should become an excuse for not going aside and getting down to the 'act of prayer,' of course. But there are many ways of prayer and many ways of praying, and the reason many of us find it so difficult is because we haven't recognised or acknowledged that what we are already doing is prayer in some kind of way.
So, back to me in the pub with a Guinness in my hand, flicking through the pages of my new book. It was a delicately human book and the words were beautifully spun, carefully chosen and fragile like a spider's web: the true story of a woman's heart breaking and finding her way through frustration and pain. They were only a few brief moments spent, snapped up from the busyness of the day, but there, for me at least, all of life had become prayer. And so, if I find myself intensely seeking out moments of prayer, pouring my way through words and silence, all well and good. And if I don't, then I have learned to be content with it: it's just the way I am!