“Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.”
When you close your eyes to pray, what do you see? Do you think of a particular image? A scene? Is God on your mind and if so, in what way? Even if your eyes are closed, what are you “looking at” when you pray?
For a long time, I thought of Jesus because Jesus is the most obvious visual representation of God I could grasp. I don’t know what it’s like to stand, as Isaiah did, before the throne of God, but I can imagine for myself what Jesus must have looked like (in spite of the inaccurate, blond- and blue-eyed interpretations that populate media). I can imagine hands and eyes and scars.
So it has been easy to me to imagine praying to Jesus, specifically, just like He was another person sitting in the room. Or walking with me in the evenings. And that is how I have a tendency to pray still.
And sometimes when I think of God I think of thrones. When I think of God the father, God in heaven reigning, I think of a throne. I think of the scenes I know from Isaiah and Revelation and I try to imagine it. I can’t envision what God must looks like on that throne—who could?—but I can imagine kneeling there. Or perhaps falling to the ground in a panic there over my own unholiness.
That’s how I’ve prayed for ages.
And then, four nights ago, I woke up in a blind panic.
I don’t know why this happens. It’s rare. And although mom has been dealing with her illness and there is always something on my mind, it wasn’t a particularly anxiety-prone time for me. Perhaps a dream caused it. There I was, wide awake out of nowhere, with every dial in my body set to maximum panic.
In this sort of thoughts-chasing-thoughts scattered panic, it is very difficult for me to pray. I’ve worked around this by relying on rote prayers at these times, even if it’s simply the Lord’s prayer or the Jesus prayer or a Bible verse.
But for whatever reason, I did not turn to any of those options, and just thought wildly, “Hey, Holy Spirit—”
—Spiritus Sanctus—why am I thinking of the Latin right now—
“Holy Spirit, I’m a little, uh—I need help—”
I don’t know how to explain it, the profound sense I had at that point of being surrounded. Of being breathed into in a way that was calming my breath. Of how that sense was making me think of the breath of life, of God being as close and intimately present as breath.
I fell asleep ten minutes later.
But since that time it has given me cause to think about how I pray. Because I always think of prayer as a going-to. That’s how we sometimes say it: “Let us go to the Lord in prayer.” And while I understand the purpose of those phrases and I know what they mean—they are a reference to a manner of approaching God, a way to orient ourselves to the magnitude of the moment—they can sometimes also lead me to visualize God as being farther away than He is.
In the end, God is as close and present as breath. And while it can be easy to neglect the Holy Spirit—so ethereal, so nebulous—the more time goes by the more I recognize the Spirit’s comfort and guidance too as God’s abiding love and presence in my daily life. We talk about it all the time, of course—but it’s another thing altogether to feel it and recognize it.
So perhaps, the next time you’re praying, it will be instructive to think about what you’re “looking at” and what you see. And as you pray, don’t forget to account for the presence of the Holy Spirit too—and that while you “go” to the Lord in prayer, He is with you, also, always, as close as can be imagined.