As soon as I graduated high school (which feels like many lifetimes ago now), I went straight to a secular university to study Music and Education. Having grown up Catholic, leading music at Mass most weekends, actively involved in a Parish youth group and attending a Catholic primary and secondary school, I was keen to have Studies of Religion as my second teaching area. So, with this in mind in Semester 1 I enrolled in “Bible: Fact or Fiction”. I was very excited to roll up my sleeves and start delving into the world of the Bible and exploring faith and religion with a bunch of people as eager to learn as I was. This probably comes as no surprise to you (but believe me when I say that it came as a big surprise to 18-year-old me) that my tutorial class was not actually full of devoted Christians like me, rather I was the only one who believed in the Bible at all. To the point that, when I mentioned that I believed in God, one of my classmates turned around and said: “Really? What, do you believe in Santa Claus too?”.
At the time I found this comment, and others like it that came my way throughout the semester, to be pretty hurtful and I would find myself quick to be on the defensive. Now, however, I am more inclined to hear these comments with “soft ears”. What I mean by this, is that I hear what their heart is saying, more so than their actual words. See, I can understand why some people may liken faith in God to faith in Santa Claus, as so often prayer is presented more like a Christmas wish list than true heartfelt communication to the One who sees all, knows all and loves all. In the busy, stressful, and complicated world we live in, prayer can often revolve around asking God for help for everyday (though very important) life things such as finding a job, passing a difficult exam, or finding a new apartment. There is of course also the old classic “Hail Mary, full of grace, help me find a parking space”. All jokes aside, sometimes prayer can sound more transactional than transformative, more wish list than life-giving and we can find ourselves wondering why it is that God hasn’t “delivered the goods” in the way we had hoped and answered our prayers in the way we wanted.
Then we read or hear Luke’s Gospel this weekend and are challenged to rethink our relationship with prayer. God may not be quick to deliver on a wish-list, but God does answer the prayers of our hearts. God hears our heart’s cry of loneliness, stress, sadness, fear, and confusion and responds quickly through gifts of love, peace, generosity, kindness, compassion, and clarity. When our hearts cry out for direction, purpose, meaning, belonging and fulfilment God delivers opportunity, possibility, hope, light and community. When our hearts are exhausted God carries us, when our hearts are livened with joy God celebrates with us.
So, what does this mean for us? Well, perhaps we can see this week’s reading as an invitation to re-examine our prayers of the last few weeks and find God’s response to our heart’s cry rather than our head’s request. When and how has God delivered the goods that you actually needed lately, rather than the ones you asked for? Who has God sent to deliver these gifts of hope, joy, kindness, compassion, justice, clarity, surety, community, safety, belonging or love?
Looking ahead then this week, perhaps, in a moment of silence, stillness and reflection, you might like to offer to God the prayer of your heart and wait in joyful anticipation for the quick and life-giving response from the One who loved you into being.